Lloyd George, David

Lloyd George, David
   David Lloyd George was British prime minister during World War I, a progenitor of the welfare state, and both a critic and practitioner of imperialism. Lloyd George came from a lower middle class family of schoolteachers, farmers, and tradesmen. He was raised in Caernarvonshire, Wales, and began his career as a radical and Welsh nationalist, but ended it as the effective leader of the Tory party. Lloyd George was first elected to Parliament for a north Wales constituency in 1890. He defended the rights of religious nonconformists and pushed for the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Wales, both emotive issues among Welshmen and Liberals at the time. Lloyd George went so far as to attempt to lead a movement for Welsh Home Rule in the mid-1890s, a stance far outside the mainstream of Liberal Party politics. He first became prominent on the national scene as a determined opponent of the South African War, expressing the view - common on the left at the time - that the war had been caused by capitalist interests seeking to annex the Rand gold fields; at one point, Lloyd George was forced to flee for his life from a jingo mob. The fiery young radical was brought into the cabinet as president of the Board of Trade under Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1905.
   When H. H. Asquith succeeded Campbell-Bannerman in 1908, Lloyd George became chancellor of the exchequer . In that role he introduced old-age pensions, paid for by the so-called people’s budget of 1909, which introduced a land tax, taxes on drink, and a more steeply progressive income tax. The Lords - “five hundred men chosen at random from amongst the unemployed,” as Lloyd George referred to them - rejected his budget, provoking the election of January 1910, in which the Liberals secured a narrow majority. After a second general election in December 1910, with a very similar result, the Liberals were able to pass not merely Lloyd George’s budget but also the 1911 Parliament Act, which limited the power of the Lords to that of delay alone.
   Lloyd George was a close friend in these years of Winston Churchill, first lord of the admiralty, which to some extent reduced his radical opposition to naval spending. His Mansion House speech of 1911 warned the Germans against aggression, and it was taken all the more seriously because it came from an erstwhile radical. With the coming of war in 1914, Lloyd George as chancellor played an important role in paying for it and in negotiating more flexible work rules with the unions in war-related industries. In May 1915, the cabinet was reconstructed, with some Tories coming into office, and Lloyd George assumed the immensely important post of minister of munitions. After Kitchener’s death, Lloyd George became in July 1916 secretary for war. Amidst growing disenchantment with Asquith, particularly among the Tories, Lloyd George became prime minister in December 1916 - the radical and anti-imperialist had become a war leader with Tory support.
   As prime minister, Lloyd George was a consistent opponent of the war of attrition on the western front, constantly seeking ways to win victory in other theaters. His wartime leadership was marked by a dogged determination to persevere against all odds, and also by nearly continuous struggles over strategy with his generals. Lloyd George’s dependence on the support of Tory Members of Parliament deepened the divisions in the Liberal Party occasioned by his 1916 split with Asquith. The victory of 1918 brought Lloyd George - “the man who won the war,” as he was popularly known - to the height of his prestige. He won the postwar 1918 election by a huge majority, with the backing of a coalition of Tories and his own so-called coalition Liberal backers. Although Lloyd George talked of building “a land fit for heroes,” the immediate focus of his government was the 1919 peace talks. Lloyd George negotiated the Treaty of Versailles, but he considered its punitive attitude to Germany a mistake, a view that led to him to support appeasement in the 1930s.
   Without a political party of his own - he was an outsider to the Conservative Party and had occasioned a bitter split in the Liberal Party - Lloyd George’s support rapidly withered in the postwar years. He resigned in the face of a 1922 scandal in which certain of his aides were discovered to have been essentially selling honors and peerages. Although there was periodic talk of his reentering government, and he continued to advocate far-reaching social reforms, his political career was over.
   See also <>.
    Grigg, John. Lloyd George. 3 vols. London: Methuen, 1973–1985;
    Morgan, Kenneth O. Lloyd George. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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