David Lloyd George

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David Lloyd George (Jan. 17, 1863-Mar. 26, 1945), British political leader of the Liberal Party who passed major social-welfare legislation and as Prime Minister (1916-1922) guided the nation through most of World War I and its aftermath.

Early career

Lloyd George was born to a Welsh family living temporarily in Manchester, England. His father William George was a Welsh schoolmaster who died when David was three. His mother and her two sons were supported by an uncle, Richard Lloyd (1834-1917), a Baptist minister and Liberal activist in North Wales who became a dominant influence on David.[1] David was active in the Campbellite Baptists, a radical offshoot of the main Baptist denomination. Leaving school at 15 because it was too Anglican, he was largely self-taught. Deciding to be a solicitor, in 1884 he passed his bar examinations. He took an active part in local politics, fighting the landlords and the Church of England in Wales (which was an established church that collected tithes from dissenters and was distinct from the main Church of England.) After his party was badly defeated in 1886 he represented a new generation and rose rapidly in the ranks, winning a seat to Parliament in 1890 as Liberal member for Carnarvon Boroughs, by a mere 18 votes. The fiery orator soon became known for his vigorous attacks on the Conservatives and his championship of prohibition, Welsh nationalism, and disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales. During the Boer War, he bitterly opposed England's policy and was called by some "pro-Boer" and by others "little Englander." From 1905 to 1908 he was a member of Campbell-Bannerman's cabinet as president of the Board of Trade.

He married Margaret (Maggie) Owen (1866–1941), a local farmer's daughter, in 1888. They had five children and lived property she owned in the village of Cricieth, in Wales; the children grew up speaking Welsh. She refused to live in London. After 1912 his secretary Frances Stevenson in London became his mistress and confidant; he married her in 1943 (two years after his first wife died).

People's Budget

In 1908 Herbert Henry Asquith made him chancellor of the exchequer, the number two position in government. His closest ally was Winston Churchill; Lloyd George was the only person who ever dominated Churchill psychologically. In 1909 he introduced his famous budget imposing increased taxes on luxuries, liquor, tobacco, incomes, and land, so that money could be made available for the new welfare programs as well as new battleships. The nation's landowners (well represented in the House of Lords) were intensely angry at the new taxes. In the House of Commons Lloyd George gave a brilliant defense of the budget, which was attacked by the Conservatives. On the stump, most famously in his Limehouse speech, he denounced the Conservatives and the wealthy classes with all his very considerable oratorical power. The budget passed the Commons, but was defeated by the Conservative majority in the House of Lords. The elections of 1910 upheld the Liberal government and the budget finally passed the Lords. Subsequently, the Parliament Bill for social reform and Irish Home Rule, which Lloyd George strongly supported, was passed and the veto power of the House of Lords was greatly curtailed. In 1911 Lloyd George succeeded in putting through Parliament his National Insurance Act, making provision for sickness and invalidism, and this was followed by his Unemployment Insurance Act.

World War I

For the first year of the war he remained chancellor of the exchequer, but when the shortage of the English supply of munitions was revealed and the cabinet was reconstituted as the first coalition ministry in May 1915, Lloyd George was put in charge of the newly created Ministry of Munitions. In this position he was a brilliant success, but he was not at all satisfied with the progress of the war, and late in 1915 he became a strong supporter of general conscription. He put through the conscription act of 1916, and in June he became secretary for war. The fall of Romania increased discontent with Asquith, who was forced out in December 1916. Lloyd George became prime minister at the head of a coalition government, though many Liberals refused to support it. His small war committee, a sort of inner cabinet, proved a great success in speeding up decision and action, and he went on to press for unity of military control among the Allies; this was not really achieved until 1918. This unity, combined with the arrival of American troops somewhat earlier than had been expected, did much to bring the war to a successful conclusion. In his War Memoirs he compared himself to Asquith:[2]

There are certain indispensable qualities essential to the Chief Minister of the Crown in a great war. . . . Such a minister must have courage, composure, and judgment. All this Mr. Asquith possessed in a superlative degree. . . . But a war minister must also have vision, imagination and initiative--he must show untiring assiduity, must exercise constant oversight and supervision of every sphere of war activity, must possess driving force to energize this activity, must be in continuous consultation with experts, official and unofficial, as to the best means of utilising the resources of the country in conjunction with the Allies for the achievement of victory. If to this can be added a flair for conducting a great fight, then you have an ideal War Minister.

Versailles Treaty

Before going as peace delegate to Versailles, Lloyd George strengthened his position by winning the Khaki Election held in December 1918 amidst all the bitterness and fervid hero worship of the end of the war. At Versailles, Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson of the U.S. and Georges Clemenceau of France concluded the peace, with Lloyd George, on the whole, on the side of generosity and moderation. From 1919 to 1922 his government steadily weakened, as the result of the railway and other strikes, of spending that irked the Conservatives, and economies that alienated the radicals; conditions in Ireland were appalling, yet no one liked the peace treaty of 1921 granting the Irish Free State Dominion status.

The Conservatives were increasingly restless under Lloyd George's leadership, but it was the failure of his foreign policy that brought about his defeat. His pro-Greek policy was a failure because of the Turkish victory of 1922, and the Chanak declaration nearly involving Britain in war. The Conservatives revolted at this, Lloyd George resigned, and Andrew Bonar Law became prime minister.

Opposition leader

In opposition Lloyd George was not at all effective, partly because the Liberal Party had too few seats to be effective, partly because the Asquith Liberals wing of the party did not like Lloyd George, and partly because the Labour Party was taking over his liberal program of relief and reform.

Nevertheless, in the economic depression of the 1930s, Lloyd George was the only political leader to put forward new and constructive ideas for dealing with unemployment. he consulted with major Liberal economists John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge, whose proposals became national policy in the 1940s. In foreign affairs he supported the policy of appeasement, and held an unusually favourable opinion of Adolf Hitler.

He twice refused to join Churchill's wartime cabinet. In 1944 he was made the first Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor. His well-regarded memoirs include War Memoirs (6 vols., 1933-1936) and The Truth About the Peace Treaty (2 vols., 1938). He left an estate of £141,147 derived mostly from book royalties.


  1. He added his uncle's surname to become Lloyd George. His surname is usually given as Lloyd George and sometimes as George.
  2. Lloyd George, War Memoirs v 1 p 602