Dan Snow on Lloyd George: My Great-Great-Grandfather


On BBC iPlayer, history broadcaster Dan Snow takes a look at Liberal Prime Minister from 1916-1922, David Lloyd George, who was his great-great-grandfather.

It’s an excellent documentary, drawing on photos and footage from the era of Lloyd George’s life, as well as commentary from a team of excellent historians and biographers.

The programme presents all aspects of Lloyd George: his undoubted charisma, his remarkable energy and drive, his unorthodox private life and corruption. Biographer Roy Hattersley credits Lloyd George with the most achievements in the shortest amount of time of any British politician, referring to his tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1908 to 1915.

All in all, it is a very accessible, if a little “Who do you think you are” in places. programme. You can see it here for the next 22 days.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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26 Comments

  • Frankly, the fate of Liberal Party would have different if Asquith somehow disappeared from politics in 1916. Since 1914, Asquith had become the party’s liability.

  • Did Asquith not lead the Liberals reasonably close to success in 1921, the almost three way split in MPs. Trouble was he delayed and delay deciding what to do in the period of intense period of inter party negotiations, Labour ended as the short lived minority government and after that all is history.

  • @ Thomas “Frankly, the fate of Liberal Party would have different if Asquith somehow disappeared from politics in 1916”.

    I doubt it. The party’s fate was sealed by the stresses of war, a wider franchise from 1918, and the rise of Labour (joined by many radical Liberals – especially ones opposed to the war). It was not helped by the Asquith-Lloyd George split which became very bitter post December, 1916 and LL.G’s subsequent conduct in 1918.

    Asquith was, in my view, shabbily treated by the Tory press and by Lloyd George in 1916. According to George H. Cassar (and Roy Jenkins) Asquith was a much better war leader than is often supposed, though the death of his son on the Somme shattered him and there is a suggestion of liver damage from the occasional wee dram.

    There was widespread mistrust of LL.G. following financial scandals before and during his premiership to do with selling honours and insider trading.

    As a later Liberal Leader was to discover in a Coalition, when the Tories no longer needed him – he was ditched.

  • @ theakes

    December 1923 General Election. Asquith & LL.G re-united. Did well but not enough.

    Seats won Tory 258 Labour 191 Liberal 158
    Seat change Decrease 86 Increase 49 Increase 96
    Popular vote 5,286,159 4,267,831 4,129,922

    Downhill thereafter.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th May '17 - 5:40pm

    David Raw

    Well shown, had the party listened to more reasonable voices, the so very not really, wizard , might have not unleashed his , rough magic in this way, you have it correct.

    Asquith better than Lloyd George , Campbell Bannerman the better of them .

    Had he been younger or fitter we might have had a “progressive ” alliance over a hundred years ago, the Labour party do net appreciate it was Liberals helped them start up electorally !!!

  • @ Lorenzo I have a huge regard for C-B both as a human being and a politician on the radical side of the party. However, Asquith made a longer lasting contribution to the fabric of the country, and had probably the best brain of any Prime Minister in our history. He man managed superbly until the summer of 1915 when the shell crisis and Gallipoli (a brain-craze of W.S. Churchill) forced a Coalition. His weakest point ? His attitude to female suffrage.

    The tragedy (in more ways than one when one remembers the casualties) was getting involved in the War….. though I feel German hegemony had to be opposed. The war tore the radical heart out of the party in August, 1914 and the vicissitudes of war did the rest.

    LLG ?…………. an inventive dynamic and unreliable rascal who made many mistakes in 1917-18. A 1917 quote from Douglas Haig’s diary, “I felt (Asquith) was head and shoulders above any other politician who had visited my Hd.Qrs. in brains and all-round knowledge. It was quite a pleasure to have (him) in the house, so amusing and kindly in his ways.”

  • Tristan Ward 24th May '17 - 7:02pm

    @Lorenzo “Had he been younger or fitter we might have had a “progressive ” alliance over a hundred years ago”.

    The problem is that socialism and liberalism are, philosophically, poles apart. See Karl Popper (esp here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Open-Society-Its-Enemies-Vol/dp/0415278422/ref=pd_bxgy_14_2?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=TNEQZRQ461KDW2ADBCT3 and I suspect though I haven’t read it that Hayek (here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Road-Serfdom-Routledge-Classics/dp/0415253896) has something interesting to say on the subject as well.

    Temporary alliances between liberals and socialists may be possible. There will never be a permanent one.

  • John Littler 24th May '17 - 9:13pm

    As a child in the late 60’s I recall asking my Grandad ( wounded Lancashire Fusileer in the Somme ) what he thought of the Liberals. He said he didn’t agree with Liberals because Lloyd George had brought in a tax on Whisky. Added to the restrictions on pub hours and “watering the workers beer” perhaps his Chapel methodist surroundings had made him rather anti booze.

    But I would forgive Lloyd George for turning around a war we were losing and for the birth of the welfare state.

  • @ John Littler I would agree LLG made a major contribution to founding the welfare state, although he inherited the scheme for Old Age Pensions devised by Asquith – and moved by Asquith in the debate.

    As to the War, he certainly claimed a great deal of credit in his memoirs, but these were later described by the Head of Research at the Imperial War Museum as ‘self serving’. My view is that the war was eventually won by a combination of the Blockade set up by Asquith – the extraordinary efforts of ordinary British & Commonwealth Tommies – and the eventual participation of unlimited U.S. reinforcements. LLG’s extension of the Defence of the Realm Act was certainly not a Liberal measure.

  • @ David Raw

    I don’t think the war was won at all.

    @ Tristan Ward

    Isn’t that what the Lib Dems are supposed to be?

    I think the fall of British Liberalism can be attributed to social democracy taking over the British left. WWI likely acted as a catalyst.

  • A Social Liberal 25th May '17 - 1:06pm

    Our victory in the Great War is mostly down to the involvement of the US – not because of the small part their troops actually played in the war fighting, but because of the threat they posed to the Axis countries. Because of the numbers that the US were going to commit to the Western Front the Germans engaged in a huge offensive in the spring of 1918, before the majority of US troops could be brought to bear. The offensive was repulsed but it so denuded the German Army of fighting troops that they would have been unable to respond to the inevitable American counter offensive. This was the primary reason for the German surrender.

  • David Raw – Asquith did not provide a “push and go” leadership style. I mean there was a change in management of war industries after LlG held power, I mean, greater state intervention. The shell crisis was single-handedly solved by Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions.

    Later, it was David Lloyd George rather than anyone from the Asquithian wing who pushed for the adoption of Keynesian economics as their main economic platform. He was also responsible for the 1928 Yellow Book. Meanwhile, the Asquithians later became Liberal Nationals and eventually Conservatives.

    However, actually, the Liberal Party was doomed after Chamberlain moved away, as this eventually led to their failure to provide a radical alternative to Labour Party later. I mean, Labour, unlike Liberal, fully represented the voice of the working people, at least at that time.

  • David Raw – Asquith did not provide a “push and go” leadership style. I mean there was a change in management of war industries after LlG held power, I mean, greater state intervention. The shell crisis was single-handedly solved by Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions.

    Later, it was David Lloyd George rather than anyone from the Asquithian wing who pushed for the adoption of Keynesian economics as their main economic platform. He was also responsible for the 1928 Yellow Book. Meanwhile, the Asquithians later became Liberal Nationals and eventually Conservatives.

    However, actually, the Liberal Party was doomed after Chamberlain moved away, as this eventually led to their failure to provide a radical alternative to Labour Party later. I mean, Labour, unlike Liberal, fully represented the voice of the lower classes, at least at that time.

  • Oh, sorry, I had some connection problems

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th May '17 - 7:24pm

    David
    Can’t argue about the importance of Asquith, a massive figure , and if a favourite of Roy Jenkins politically, have often thought must be good , as he was a wise man, our old wadical Woy !!

    Tristan

    There is an irony ,in that some think I am on the right of the party, usually those on the farther left of it, but I do not agree with you. I think Liberalism is compatible with types of both socialism and social democracy , as well as with a form of Conservatism.

    Liberalism is about flexibility or it is no Liberalism in my opinion!

    There is a more libertarian strand of very democratic socialism, which we , any of us could , I think, co- operate with. And that brings me to the co-operative movement and it’s alliance with Labour , nearly a hundred years old, the movement started independently , in 1917, an agreement with Labour ten years later that has lasted.Our values fit in with theirs , even as we differ on detail.

    John Stuart Mill, in my view the greatest exponent of Liberalism ever, was very keen later on ,under the influence of his wife Harriet Taylor, and her daughter, his step daughter, Helen , both to the left of him a bit, on forms of voluntary and economic socialism and social democracy, in the work place , especially in factories, favoured capital for workers to invest , as managers and innovators, in collective shared enterprises, and considered a wage oriented economy, rather than shareholders only.

    Social democracy is more than compatible , with Liberalism,it has , since the post war era, been its best friend and or relative, culminating in this country with the formation of the SDP, then the merger with the Liberal party and …

    Socialism in the statist sense, without the words .libertarian or democratic before it, or democracy after it, is utterly incompatible with any form of Liberalism.

    There are socialists today with more in common with the communism of old, in their values and attitudes. These are to be criticised and exposed as myopic !

    There are also many versions of radical Tory democracy of old, liberal conservatism now in Europe and Latin America, and Christian democracy since the war, that are very compatible with Liberalism,…

  • Lorenzo Suggest you read T. H. Green, L. T. Hobhouse, as liberal consequentialists who followed and developed J. S. Mill….

  • Daniel Walker 25th May '17 - 9:26pm

    @David Raw, I don’t know if our good Mr Cherin will take your advice, but I’ve been wondering what to follow-up On Liberty with. Hobhouse’s Liberalism it is. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • @ Thomas Agree with much of your post…. though Joe Chamberlain left the Liberal Party in 1885 – some twenty years before the Campbell-Bannerman landslide.

    Agree LLG had success at the Ministry of Munitions – run as a nationalised industry …….. but remember appointed by Asquith (who was misled by Kitchener about the shell crisis…………. and by John French who used as a press leak to shore up his shaky position). A murky business fuelled by the Tory Times.

    Agree LLG was a Keynesian, but not that the Squiff wing all became National Liberals and Conservatives.

    The sad bit is that they split in December, 1916. It could have been avoided.

  • It’s all very well saying we have shared values with some people who call themselves social democrats and some people who call themselves conservatives. There’s only room for two parties under FPTP and currently we have a social democrat party and a conservative one.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th May '17 - 11:53pm

    David and Daniel

    Your choices are excellent, had I gone further in the comparisons , would have been correct and appropriate to mention those to who of course I know of well, but as two examples of the beginnings of New or social Liberalism, and thus the overlap is there.

    The example I gave , my favourite Liberal , was really to show that even someone associated with classical Liberalism, and , yes , On Liberty, Mill was compatible with certain ,types of early socialism, though not now , as a result of subsequently, the sorts the world has seen and alas suffered as a result of!

    Andrew , not sympathetic to the idea that the two parties we have in current form must be allowed to continue thus !! We must change them, or the electoral system !!!

  • David Raw – HCB’s landslide was in 1906, 12 years before universal male suffrage, which means the majority of working class people, many if not most of whom would have voted for Labour, was not eligible to vote at that time. Before 1945, the working people accounted for the highest proportion of total adult population due to the nature of the economy.

    Based on the worldwide political trend, Liberal Party was doomed as a main party of the government, because it stood for nobody. Labour/Socialists/Social Democrats stood for the working class, whereas Conservatives had replaced Liberal as the party for businessmen. You know, this was the trend not only in UK but also in Europe. Liberal parties were squeezed by both the Right and the Left, and they disappeared even earlier in places like Germany. The UK Liberal Party was the last to fall, but still because of the war more than the rise of Labour.

    Lorenzo Cherin – classical liberalism failed to solved high level of poverty and misery at that time (Victorian era), and then social liberalism emerged.

  • @ Thomas……….. Echoes of Private Fraser in Dad’s Army. We’re all dooooooomeeed.

  • @ Thomas
    “– HCB’s landslide was in 1906, 12 years before universal male suffrage, which means the majority of working class people”

    I am not so sure regarding the working class. It is possible that the majority of voters were working class even before 1918. In 1884 the franchise was extended to men who paid annual rent of £10. According to Wikipedia 60% of male adults had the vote, “in England and Wales, two in three adult males had the vote; in Scotland, three in five did; but in Ireland, the figure was only one in two.” Therefore most men who owned property or paid rent had the vote including those who got a house as part of their employment.

    The 1918 act about doubled the number of male voters – an increase of 5.6 million on top of 7 million. According to https://measuringworth.com/datasets/ukearncpi average wages in 1918 were just over £132 per year. Therefore it would be reasonable to assume that most of the men who didn’t have the vote lived with a relative who did.

  • John Littler 29th May '17 - 6:06pm

    “The strange death of Liberal England” describes the replacement of the Liberal Party as a natural party of government, by Labour in the early to mid 20th Century, mirrored across continental Europe.

    Now, around 100 years after Lloyd George was in government, there appears to have been a big trend towards the return of Liberals in governments around the world.

    Canada
    Austrian Presidency (Green)
    Netherlands
    France
    South Korea

    Even in USA, Clinton won 3m more votes than Drumph

  • David – I disagree in part. Lloyd George offered Asquith the Lord Chancellorship – not a bad return after eight years as Prime Minister. Once it had become clear that Asquith had lost the confidence of the Tories and of a substantial minority of his own MPs, he should have gone, however unfair the criticism was. An unsplit Liberal Party led by the victorious war Prime Minister would almost certainly have won the 1918 election. How it then coped with the Irish crisis would have been interesting, though without the Tories it might have reached an agreement sooner. It would probably have lost the next election on the back of post-war recession, but remained in fighting shape.

    Yes, there were various factors working against the Liberal Party at the time, but none of them was a death sentence. Plenty of working men up to 1914 had voted Liberal. Some enfranchised women would no doubt have forgiven Asquith’s pre-war opposition and voted for the man who’d extended the vote. Union-based worker parties never displaced their leftish and liberalish rivals in the USA or the Liberals in Canada and the continuing strength of Britain’s Liberals up to 1914 had already differentiated the country from continental countries. The Labour Party pre-1914 was a serious rival in relatively few seats and its rapid growth from 1918 was helped by numerous defections from the left of the shattered Liberals. A long and ruthless war could be said to undermine the moral foundations of Liberalism, but it didn’t fit too well with still internationalist Socialism either. The spread of mass production and big companies weakened Liberalism and encouraged Socialism – but the same factors applied in North America.

    It seems to me a classic case of a number of negative factors coming into play at the same time; but remove one vital factor and the result could have been different.

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