David Lloyd George (1863 ~ 1945): His life and times

By Andrew Caffrey

Son of William George and Elizabeth Lloyd, David was born in Manchester on January 17th, 1863. His father died one year after his birth and David and his mother went to live in Llanystumdwy in Caernarvonshire with Elizabeth’s brother Richard. He did well in school and after passing the Law Society examination he became a solicitor in 1879 and was went to work up in Portmadoc.

Upon completion of his training, he decided to set up his own law establishment in Criccieth. In 1888 he married the daughter of a prosperous farmer, Margaret Owen. In 1890, he was elected to parliament where he was radical in his social views and supported nationalism while opposing the Boer War in Southern Africa. In 1905, with the newly elected Liberal government, he was appointed to the cabinet position of president of the Board of Trade and in 1908 was made Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The budget he submitted in 1909 contained numerous appropriations for social legislation benefiting the workers, and it met with vigorous opposition from the Conservatives and from the House of Lords, which voted against it. In a speech made in the Limehouse district of London in 1909, Lloyd George defended his budget and abused the opposition so blatantly that the term Limehouse has remained in the English language as a synonym for denunciation of political opponents.

Soon afterwards, the House of Lords was forbidden to consider any financial bills, and many of Lloyd George’s reforms were adopted, including national sickness and invalidity insurance and unemployment insurance. Lloyd George’s next reform was the 1911 National Insurance Act. This gave the working classes the first contributionary system of insurance against illness and unemployment. All wage earners between sixteen and seventy had to join and would contribute 4 pence per week and the employer added 3 pence per week and the State added 2 pence a week. In return the employee would receive free medical assistance including medicine been given and those who contributed would be guaranteed 7 shillings per week fifteen weeks in any one year, when unemployed.

Lloyd George was seen as a socialist and was heavily influenced by Fabian Society pamphlets on social reform by Beatrice Webb, Sidney Webb and George Bernard Shaw. When in opposition, Lloyd George had been a supporter of women’s rights and upset members of the NUWSS and the WSPU, by doing little to aid them. This in turn led to many activists leaving the Liberal Party. In July 1912, Christabel Pankhurst decided to organize a secret arson campaign. Lloyd George was one of their targets and they successfully burnt down a house that was being built for him.

At the end of July 1914, the British Government had realized that they were on the brink of war with Germany. Four senior members of the British Government were fully opposed to England being involved in any European War. They were Lloyd George, Charles Trevely, John Burns and John Morley. Herbert Asquith, Prime minister, was informed and the three of the four government members had resigned as planned. The only member who did not resign of the four members was Lloyd George because Herbert Asquith had persuaded him not to. The progressive wing of the Liberal Party was quite disappointed with Lloyd George’s decision not to oppose the country’s involvement in the First World War. It soon emerged that Lloyd George would become one of the main figures in the government who was willing to escalate the war in an effort to bring a quick victory over Germany. At the beginning of World War I, Lloyd George, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, secured Britain’s credit and placed the country in a financial position strong enough to endure the war.

When, in 1915, the war appeared to be going badly and the government asked Lloyd George to become Minister of Munitions. The coalition government was very impressed with Lloyd George’s abilities as a war minister and began to question Asquith’s leadership of the country during the crisis. In December 1916, David Lloyd George agreed to collaborate with the conservatives in the cabinet to remove Herbert Asquith. Lloyd George, who in 1916 upset some radicals by not opposing conscription in 1916, was now in overall charge of the war effort. However, Lloyd George was having difficulty controlling the tactics used by his generals on the Western front but he had more success with the Navy when he persuaded them to use the convoy system to ensure adequate imports of food and military supplies. Lloyd George then received a lot of credit for Britain’s eventual victory over the Triple Alliance.

Lloyd George’s decision to join the Conservatives in removing Herbert Asquith in 1916 split the Liberal Party. In the 1918 General election, many Liberals supported candidates who remained loyal to Asquith. Despite this, Lloyd George’s coalition group won 459 seats and had a large majority of the Labor Party and members of the Liberal Party that supported Asquith.

In 1918, in East Fife, Herbert Asquith had lost his seat to William Wedgewood Benn who led the groups that were opposed to Lloyd George’s government. John Benn, who was also opposed to Lloyd George, gave the new group the name, Wee Frees, after a small group of Free Church of Scotland members who refused to accept the union of their church with the United Presbyterian Church. During the 1918 General elections campaign, Lloyd George promised comprehensive reforms to all with education, housing, health and transport. However, he was now a prisoner of the Conservative Party who had no desire to introduce these reforms. Lloyd George endured three years of frustration before the Conservative members of his cabinet ousted him from power. For the next twenty years, David Lloyd George continued to campaign for progressive causes without a political party to support him, he was never to hold power again. During the 1920’s Lloyd George produced several reports on how Britain could be improved.

Lloyd George attended the Paris Peace Conference and had great success yet while this was occurring there was economic shock back home in England. Lloyd returned home to a civilian life. After the armistice, he participated in the peace conference and helped frame the Treaty of Versailles. In 1920 he introduced the Government of Ireland Bill and later in 1921, he had set up the negotiations that led to the Irish Free State. The Conservatives withdrew from his coalition government in 1922 in protest against Irish home rule and support by Britain of Greece against Turkey; Lloyd George resigned, and a general election was called in which the Conservatives were elected to power. Lloyd George was reelected to Parliament from his borough and was leader of the opposition until 1931. He was made an earl shortly before his death on March 26, 1945.

Two reasons why this topic merited studied were:
David Lloyd George was Prime Minister of England at the end of World War 1 and was appointed war minister being one of the main figures in government to help to bring a quick victory over Germany.
David Lloyd George was the person under whom the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed and he participated in the Peace Conference and in 1920, introduced the government of Ireland Act. It was largely through his efforts that the Irish Free State was established. Also, most Leaving Certificate books only cover Lloyd George’s life during and after the 1st World War.

Bibliography: O’Morgan, K., David Lloyd George, Welsh Radical as World Statesman, Greenwood Press, 1982.
Brinkerhoff, B., David Lloyd George: a Political Life – Organizer of Victory, 1912-1916, Ohio State University Press, 1992.
Bentley Brinkerhoff Gilbert, David Lloyd George: a Political Life – the Architect of Change, 1863-1912, Ohio State University Press, 1987.
Packer, I., Lloyd George (British History in Perspective), St. Martin’s Press, 1999.