David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor, OM (January 17, 1863–March 26, 1945) was a British statesman and the last Liberal to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Although born in Manchester in 1863, David Lloyd George was a Welsh-speaking Welshman, the only Welshman ever to hold the office of Prime Minister in the British government. In his early life he lived in poverty and so moved with his mother to live with his uncle in Llanystumdwy, North Wales, who encouraged him to take up a career in law and go into politics. His childhood showed through in all of his career, as he attempted to aid the common man at the expense of what he liked to call "the Dukes".
Entry into politics
His flair quickly showed, and he was elected Liberal MP for Caernarfon in 1890 and he would remain an MP until 1945, fifty five years later. He gained national fame by his vehement opposition to the Boer War. In 1905, he entered the new Liberal Cabinet of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman as President of the Board of Trade, and on Campbell-Bannerman's death he succeeded the new Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1908 to 1915. In this role, he was largely responsible for the introduction of old age pensions in Britain and began what is now referred to as the Welfare State.
Considered a pacifist until 1914, Lloyd George changed his stance when World War I broke out. When the Liberal government fell as a result of the Shell Crisis of 1915 and was replaced with a coalition government dominated by Liberals still under the Premiership of Asquith, Lloyd George became the first Minister of Munitions in 1915 and then war secretary in 1916.
He progressed to replace H. H. Asquith as prime minister of a new wartime coalition government between the Liberals and the Conservatives. This was a move that split his Liberal Party into two factions; those who supported Asquith and those who supported the coalition government. Despite this opposition, Lloyd George steered the country politically through the war, and represented Britain at the Versailles Peace Conference, clashing with both French Premier Georges Clemenceau and American President Woodrow Wilson. Lloyd George wanted to punish Germany politically and economically for devastating Europe during the war, but did not want to utterly destroy the German economy and political system the way Clemenceau and many other people of France wanted to do. Memorably, he replied to a question as to how he had done at the peace conference, "Not badly, considering I was seated between Jesus Christ and Napoleon." Lloyd George favoured plebiscites on the German-Polish border that resulted in many military clashes and extremely long and defenceless border between those two countries.
Lloyd George began to feel the weight of the coalition with the Conservatives after the war. His decision to extend conscription to Ireland was nothing short of disastrous, indirectly leading a majority of Irish MPS to declare independence. He presided over a bloody war of attrition in Ireland, that led to the formation of the Irish Free State. The involvement of government in atrocities was a major factor in turning Irish people away from the United Kingdom. At one point, he famously declared of the IRA "We have murder by the throat!". However he was soon to begin negotiations with IRA leaders to end the conflict. He was a bitter opponent of Welsh nationalism. His 1918 General Election campaign featured promises of reforms on education, housing, health and transport. The traditionalist Conservative Party, however, had no intention of introducing these reforms, which led to three years of frustrated fighting within the coalition. It was this fighting, coupled with the increasingly differing ideologies of the two forces in a country reeling from the costs of war that led to Lloyd George being removed from power. The Conservatives maintained that they did not need Lloyd George to be electable simply because he was the man who won the war for Britain. They also accused him of selling knighthoods and peerages for money and lacking any executive accountability as prime minister, claiming that he never turned up to Cabinet meetings and banished some government departments to the gardens of 10 Downing Street. A meeting at London's Carlton Club between the frustrated and underused coalition backbenchers sealed Lloyd George's fate. Prominent Conservative politician Austen Chamberlain argued for supporting Lloyd George, while prospective party leader Andrew Bonar Law argued the other way, claiming that breaking up the coalition "wouldn't break Lloyd George's heart".
Later political career
Throughout the next two decades Lloyd George remained on the margins of British politics, being frequently predicted to return to office but never succeeding. In 1929 Lloyd George became Father of the House, the longest serving member of the Commons. In 1931 an illness prevented his joining the National Government when it was formed. Later when the National Government called a General Election he tried to pull the Liberal Party out of it but succeeded in taking only a few followers, most of who were related to him.
In 1935 he sought to promote a radical programme of economic reform, often called "Lloyd George's New Deal" after the contemporary New Deal of the US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. However the programme did not find favour in the mainstream political parties. Later that year Lloyd George and his familty reunited with the Liberal Party in Parliament. In the late 1930s he was sent by the British government to try to dissuade Adolf Hitler from his plans of Europe-wide fascist expansion.
During the Second World War there was speculation about Lloyd George returning to government, and even suggestions of making him Prime Minister once more, but these came to nothing. In early 1945 he accepted a peerage as Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor and Viscount Gwynedd, of Dwyfor in the County of Caernarvon. He had already formed the view that he would lose his seat in the House of Commons at the next General Election, but the offer of a peerage turned his fortunes around because it enabled him to remain active in politics not just for the next parliamentary term but for the rest of his life. However, he died shortly afterwards without ever taking up his seat in the House of Lords.
His perceived double-dealing on many issues alienated many of his former supporters, but there is no doubt that he was a brilliant politician, hence his nickname: The Welsh Wizard. He also had a reputation as a womaniser, and, following the death of his wife, he married his secretary and mistress, Frances Stevenson.
His son, Gwilym, and daughter, Megan, both followed him into politics and were elected members of parliament. They were politically faithful to their father throughout his life but following their father's death each drifted away from the Liberal Party, with Gwilym finishing his career as a Conservative cabinet minister whilst Megan became a Labour MP.
Lloyd George's war cabinet, December 1916–January 1919
- May - August 1917 - In temporary absence of Arthur Henderson, George Barnes, Minister of Pensions acts as a member of the War Cabinet.
- June 1917 - Jan Smuts enters the War Cabinet as a Minister without Portfolio
- July 1917 - Sir Edward Carson enters the War Cabinet as a Minister without Portfolio
- August 1917 - George Barnes succeeds Arthur Henderson (resigned) as Minister without Portfolio and Labour Party member of the War Cabinet.
- January 1918 - Carson resigns and is not replaced
- April 1918 - Austen Chamberlain succeeds Lord Milner as Minister without Portfolio.
- January 1919 Law becomes Lord Privy Seal and is succeeded as Chancellor of the Exchequer by Chamberlain; both remaining in the War Cabinet. Smuts is succeeded by Sir Eric Geddes as Minister without Portfolio.
Some other members of Lloyd George's war Government, not in the cabinet
Lloyd George's peacetime Government, January 1919–October 1922
The War Cabinet was formally maintained for much of 1919, but as Lloyd George was out of the country for many months this did not noticeable make much of a difference. In October 1919 a formal Cabinet was reinstated.
- October 1919 - Lord Curzon succeeds Balfour as Foreign Secretary. Balfour succeeds Curzon as Lord President. Sir Auckland Geddes succeeds Sir Albert Stanley as President of the Board of Trade. The Local Government Board is abolished. Christopher Addison becomes Minister of Health. The Board of Agriculture is abolished. Lord Lee becomes Minister of Agriculture. Sir Eric Geddes becomes Minister of Transport.
- 1920 - Sir Hamar Greenwood succeeds Ian Macpherson as Chief Secretary for Ireland. Sir Robert Horne succeeds Sir Auckland Geddes as President of the Board of Trade. Thomas McNamara succeeds Horne as Minister of Labour. George Barnes leaves the Cabinet. Sir Laming Worthington-Evans joins the Cabinet as Minister without Portfolio.
- 1921 - Austen Chamberlain succeeds Bonar Law as Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the Commons. Sir Robert Horne succeeds Chamberlain at the Exchequer. Stanley Baldwin succeeds Horne at the Board of Trade. Winston Churchill succeeds Lord Milner as Colonial Secretary. Sir Laming Worthington-Evans succeeds Churchill as War Secretary. Lord Lee succeeds Walter Long at the Admiralty. Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen succeeds Lee as Minister of Agriculture. Christopher Addison becomes a Minister without Portfolio. Sir Alfred Mond succeeds him as Minister of Health. The Ministries of Transport and Munitions are abolished. The Attorney General, Sir Gordon Hewart, enters the Cabinet.
- 1922 - Lord Peel succeeds Edwin Montagu as India Secretary. The First Commissioner of Works, Lord Crawford, enters the Cabinet.