Friday, April 14, 2006

David Lloyd George

(BBC Wales Online)
Late last night I caught a documentary on the former British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George on BBC 4. Presented by Huw Edwards, it said that there needed to be a rehabilitation of Lloyd George's reputation!
I disagree. To reverse the style of the documentary, I will start by briefly conceeding that he helped bring forward some important reforms., such as helping to disestablish the Church of England in Wales, temperance reforms, attacked the use of concentration camps in the Boer War, introduced old age pensions, unemployment benefit, and aid for the sick and infirm. He helped form the Ministry of Health and started reform of the House of Lords.
But David Lloyd George was not the only one who supported these aims and his involvement in the Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith governments were not that of a one-man-band. In many respects, David Lloyd George was a wrecker extraordinare.
For a start, there was his lack of promotion under Gladstone, and then Rosebery, because they had heard rumours (largely true) of financial corruption and womanising. There was the fact that he was a pacifist until the start of World War I. Then there was his manovering to replace Asquith, which split and permanently damaged the Liberal Party, he helped bring the Black and Tans into Ireland, he also helped sell honours for cash in an open and cynical fashion. His main ally being a shady Whitehall civil servant and rogue spy, Arthur Maundy Gregory. When a former Labour MP, Victor Grayson, accused Lloyd George of the sale of honours, he added that his chief salesman was "a monocled dandy with offices in Whitehall.." He was beaten up in the Strand shortly afterwards, and when he continued to criticise the sale of honours, threatening to name Gregory, he disappeared in suspicious circumstances (curiously enough, that was not mentioned in the documentary).
As it was, the rumours of selling honours became so widespread that within two years, the coalition Lloyd George headed broke up, and he was defeated in the ensuing general election. Lloyd George never received high office again. Partly I think because, when the Liberals had the oppurtunity to go into coalition with the National Government of 1931, Ramsay MacDonald and Stanley Baldwin (esp Baldwin) had such a moral and political and personal dislike of the man.
But if that wasn't enough, Lloyd George embarrassed himself, his dignity, and his supporters further. In 1936 he accepted an invitation from Hitler to visit Germany, and Lloyd George went under the mistaken view that he could pacify Hitler. He returned, making some favourable comments about the dictator.
Many of Lloyd George's fans are people who talk about his mistakes as if he was some benevolent old relative who sometimes had lapses of judgement which,if not said is hinted, should not affect our view of him. I tend to think that causing one's family major distress over one's womanising, oppurtunistic politicking over a long period of time, corruption and cynicism over selling honours that may or may not have ended in someone's murder, sending in a gang of terrorist thugs to restore order in a troubled nation, and sucking up to a vicious dictator who was likely to be one of the most vile men of the Twentieth Century, are not exactly lapses of judgement. To lionise him in the way some do, does no honour to a profession which is already sneered at and unjustly attacked per se by many who regard those of us involved as corrupt and I would certainly consider him as among the Top Three worst Prime Ministers of the last 100 years.

4 comments:

the dĂșnadan said...

"he also helped sell honours for cash in an open and cynical fashion."

Beastly man. Let's hope the Labour Party never does anything so, er, bad...

"But if that wasn't enough, Lloyd George embarrassed himself, his dignity, and his supporters further. In 1936 he accepted an invitation from Hitler to visit Germany, and Lloyd George went under the mistaken view that he could pacify Hitler. He returned, making some favourable comments about the dictator."

To be fair, this criticism is easy with hindsight. All-in-all, Lloyd George does not sound like the most pleasant man, but in the 30s there were lots of people who would have been happy to appease Hitler. And with good reason, having already seen what the consequences of war could be.

Paul Burgin said...

The current problems in the Labour Party are still under investigation. Lloyd George was almost blatant about his actions.
As for Hitler I take your point, but Churchill, for example, never made such mistakes!

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Lloyd George never received high office again. Partly I think because, when the Liberals had the oppurtunity to go into coalition with the National Government of 1931, Ramsay MacDonald and Stanley Baldwin (esp Baldwin) had such a moral and political and personal dislike of the man.

Not totally. There were several times when he might have joined. In early 1931 there was talk of Lloyd George joining the Labour government (and maybe even the Labour Party) as Deputy Prime Minister. That August he was incapacitated during the economic and political crisis. Had he been active he would almost certainly have been in the National Government - it would have been hard to exclude him - or may even have become Prime Minister. If either his health had recovered in time or the National Government had not gone down the tariff route then Lloyd George would probably have joined later on.

Even in the mid 1930s there was talk of Lloyd George joining the government and again in 1940 there were a few who considered him for the premiership. Churchill did offer him a post but he declined, expecting a British defeat.

Incidentally doesn't Tony Blair consider Lloyd George to be his political hero? A Prime Minister who smashed his party, treated the Commons with contempt, flogged peerages...

Paul Burgin said...

You could be right, but Lloyd George was so contaminated in some respects I wonder if he was balckmailed into refusing. In other words, offered a post (for appearances sake) with the proviso that he refused, or else....
Just a theory though!
I know the PM allegedly considers Lloyd George a hero, but so, allegedly, did Margaret Thatcher in some respects. I don't. I think people like Lloyd George can exist in any party and it is the job of more decent politicians to deal with them in a way that doesn't involve mud slinging against opposition parties so as to try and benefit out of people's moral outrage. (For example the Tories cannot complain about Arthur Maundy Gregory when they gave him a pension as hush money once he left prison. And yes, Labour did have figures like John Stonehouse) Tough, but necessary!