David Lloyd George

He was born in 1863, his father had died, and his mother took him back to Caernarfonshire where he lived his uncle, who was a great presence in his life. He lived in a rural area and recognised the plight of the ordinary person throughout his career. He was a Welsh speaker and the only Welshman to become Prime Minister. He studied Law and became a local solicitor.

He was elected for Parliament in 1890 locally, and continued to support himself as a solicitor. He was allied to some other Welsh liberals and was interested in Welsh independence and land reform. They were particularly concerned with disestablishing the Church of England in Wales. He became a leading opponent of the Boer Wars. Criticising the racial arrogance of the English and the cost of the War. Money that could have been spent on social reforms.

In 1906 he entered the Liberal cabinet and was made President of the Board of Trade. He did some important work regulating industries, but his finest achievement was in bringing about conciliation in the railway industry. The rail companies would not talk to Unions, but DLG managed to get them to see representatives on conciliation boards, thus averting a strike.

He became Chancellor in 1908 and was pressed to spend money on Dreadnoughts in the arms race with the Germans. The Budget in 1909 was hailed as a great success. He raised taxes on land and luxuries to pay for social reform and the arms race. He managed this without damaging free trade. The Conservative House of Lords rejected the budget, but an election held for the Liberals and the budget was passed.

In 1911 the power of the House of Lords was curtailed, DLG was instrumental in persuading the new King George V to give his consent. These victories allowed his social reforms and the start of the welfare state. Old age pensions, national insurance for the sick and unemployment benefit were all started under his Chancellorship.

In 1914 he was able to fulfil his dream of disestablishing the Church of England in Wales. But war was looming and people who thought DLG was anti-war were surprised by his Mansion House Speech, patriotically vowing to stand up to German aggression.

In the summer of 1914 he was advocating staying out of the coming War, but he was impressed by Belgium’s defiance of Germany and his statesmanlike behaviour held sway in the cabinet. By 1915 there was a crisis on the front as there were not enough shells and ammunition being produced. He was made minister of munitions and energetically transformed the department.

The Prime Minister Asquith was not a good organiser or planner and DLG replaced him Dec 1916. He was anxious to create any angle to defeat the Germans and knock them out of the War. His energy and innovation were rarely mirrored by anyone else. The military planners were too orthodox and staid. The only progressive action in the War was the Dardanelles. His colleague Churchill took the blame for that even though the prosecution of that mission was not what he wanted.

The Germans were able to transfer men by the Allies, as the new technologies of planes and tanks were starting to be combined effectively. Pushing the Germans back, they were starving due to naval blockade and collapsed politically in November 1918. There was no will to march into the fatherland and the enemy were allowed to lay down their weapons and go home.

The blame was probably the Germans, and the French exerted vast reparations on them at the peace conference at Versailles. The negotiations were extended longer than expected. But at home his coalition with Conservatives, was delivering on social reform. Minimum wages, public health and mine safety. An extended franchise for men and finally for women.

But Ireland was rebelling. The IRA were targeting British forces and were being tackled by the murderous Black and Tans. DLG may have realised that he had lost the argument and called for peace. Negotiations led to partition for Northern Ireland to remain British, and an Irish Free State.

But there were many financial and sexual scandals surrounding the DLG. He had achieved much, but people did not trust him anymore. The Labour party started to make up ground and even formed a Government in 1929. The Liberal Party was reduced to 40 seats. His old ally Churchill crossed the floor, for the second time, to join the Conservatives and look for a job.

It was a sad decline for such a great leader. Vision, energy, passion, principle and above all the ability to charm, seduce, manipulate or extract whatever he wanted. He did not have the morality of Gladstone or the Statesmanship of Pitt, but he got things done. When you are dealing with the dirty business of politics, it pays to be dirty.

But after all the Welsh Wizard conjured up a welfare state and victory in the Great War. Not bad for a lad from Wales.

Lechyd da Boyo!

Conway-Laird (2017)

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