Wednesday, 27 July 2011

David Lloyd George by Roy Hattersley

David Lloyd George: The Great Outsider by Roy Hattersley (Little Brown 2010)

Last summer I spent a while researching whether there were any decent biographies of Lloyd George. I have his multi-volume War Diaries purchased in a moment of financial whim in a charity shop in Preston, Lancs but if you were looking for a comprehensive take on Lloyd George's life, then last summer there was not one to be found. This is interesting in itself, David Lloyd George was the man who lead Great Britain to victory in the Great War surely, as with Churchill, there should have been dozens of titles. Part of the reason for this one wonders may have to do with how the book came to be written. Roy Jenkins, the stalwart of British political Biography whose titles include Gladstone, Asquith, Baldwin and Churchill, suggested to Roy Hattersley that he write the biography because he disliked Lloyd George 'so heartily that he could not write the book himself'

Money played an important part in Lloyd George's life and it was probably the lack of it in childhood that made him so desirous of it in later life. Born in Manchester he spent most of his childhood in North Wales, the country with which he would be so closely associated with. His later financial dealings nearly ruined his career as with his disastrous gold mining operations in Argentina where he continued to solicit investment even after he was aware there was no gold, and the Marconi scandal where a number of cabinet ministers were involved in speculating in the share value prior to the awarding of a large government contract. It was the issue of money that finally ended his run as Prime Minister when the extent of his involvement in selling honours became known.

After receiving the reputation of being something of a womaniser (a reputation that later led to his nickname of 'the goat'), at the age of 21 Lloyd George realised that he needed a woman who could provide 'the stability of indomitable domesticity'. The woman was Margaret Lloyd George (nee Owen). They stayed together until her death in 1944 although he was hardly faithful. In 1910 he met Frances Stevenson when she was hired as the childrens' tutor. She became Lloyd George's mistress and was to remain with him until his death, becoming the second Mrs Lloyd George following Margaret's death in 1944.

I said that Lloyd George was the man who lead Great Britain to victory in the Great War but he should be remembered for far more than that. He was the man who essentially started the modern welfare state by introducing state pensions and employment insurance, the man who strengthened British democracy by forcing the House of Lords into breaking a constitutional convention which led to the Parliament Act 1911 that limited the power of the unelected Lords to a suspensory veto. He is also a man to be remembered for two wars.  For his vehement opposition to the Boer War (that almost made him the most unpopular man in the country) to his stalwart leadership during the First World War. There is so much more to say about his achievements but my prĂ©cis would be a poor substitution to reading the book itself.

Roy Jenkins book is an interesting one. He tries to be dispassionate about Lloyd George and I think like me he genuinely admires what he achieved but with each chapter you sense a growing dislike of the person. His treatment of his wife although mitigated by the fact that she refused to leave her native Leeds to join him in London, cannot be condoned. The book could have done with a concluding chapter just to sum up his thoughts on the man but sadly all we are given is half a paragraph. Otherwise this was a thoroughly interesting book on a very interesting period in British politics and I highly recommend it.