David Lloyd George (January 17, 1863 – March 26, 1945) was a British statesman and the last Liberal Party 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 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 like to call “the Dukes.” His flair quickly showed, and he was elected Liberal MP for Caernarfon in 1890.
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, Herbert Henry 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 1 broke out, and became first minister of munitions in 1915 and then war secretary in 1916. He then progressed to replace Herbert 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 French Premier Georges Clemenceau.
Lloyd George began to feel the weight of the coalition with the Conservatives after the war. Whilst sympathetic to nationalists and willing to accept the independence of Ireland, he would not do the same for his home country of Wales. 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”.
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 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.
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. After retiring from politics in 1945, he was created an earl, but died shortly afterwards. In the 1930s he had been sent by the British government to try and dissuade Adolf Hitler from his plans of Europe-wide fascist expansion. His son, Gwilym, and daughter, Megan, both followed him into politics and were elected members of parliament.