Lloyd George becomes Prime Minister 6th December 1916

“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”.

These words of Lloyd George summarise the weaknesses of Asquith as a Prime Minister in times of War and the picture Lloyd George had of himself as the “ideal War Minister” .Already Minister of Munitions he was facing the massive challenge of ensuring that the British Army had the ammunition necessary to fight the Great War.

It is astonishing how the boy from the small village Llanystumdwy in Gwynedd became the most powerful statesman in Great Britain and a person of wordwide stature. Born in Manchester and raised by his mother and uncle on his father’s death at 44 years of age. The family moved to Llanystumdwy and initially lived with “Uncle Lloyd” in Highgate, a cottage in the village.

It is more than likely that Lloyd George’s strengths of leadership were clearly seen when still a schoolboy and these strengths developed into plans and dreams as he grew older. Visiting the House of Commons as a teenager he viewed that assembly as territory to be conquered and in April 1890 he was elected Liberal M.P. for the Caernarfon Boroughs.

His steady rise to various ministerial offices recognised his many talents – President of the Board of Trade, Chancellor of the Exchequer where he introduced many reforms including Old Age Pensions and led a challenge that reduced the powers of the House of Lords, Minister of Munitions and finally the Premiership. He won the support not only of his own Liberal M.P.s but of the country outside of Parliament. He was able to attract huge audiences and was for hundreds of thousands their top parliamentarian “the man who won the war”. When he died Churchill regarded him as the “greatest Welshman since the Tudors”

December 6th 2016 records that ascendancy to be Prime Minister of one of Wales’ greatest sons.

* Lord Roberts of Llandudno is a Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Eddie Sammon 6th Dec '16 - 1:55pm

    The centre-left can be popular again, but it needs more independent thinking. It needs to listen to the Guardian less, which I think has become influenced by anti-westernism (see its editorial on Fidel Castro) and other unpopular causes.

    I’ve taken an interest in Lloyd George’s career due to an apparent distant relation on the Welsh side of my ancestry, but I don’t have much to comment here on his legacy. His views seemed to change over time, being on the left around the time of the People’s Budget but then moving away from those ideas during WW1 and the rise of socialism.

  • Sue Sutherland 6th Dec '16 - 2:37pm

    It’s important that we as a party don’t forget Lloyd George. He introduced the first truly redistributive budget when Chancellor of the Exchequer which provided a vital safety net for those living in poverty. The House of Lords tried to block it and wealthy people were outraged by it. The Messel family ( Tony Armstrong Jones was a later member of this family) had a photograph taken of them stamping on a copy of the budget paper to show their hatred.
    So, redistribution as well as free trade is one of the roots of our party, established before socialism took over the fight for the working class against the owners of the means of production. We do not have to be socialist to promote redistribution and we shouldn’t be afraid of opprobrium if we believe our society has become too polarised and therefore needs more redistributive policies. The accusation of class warfare can be ignored if we also seek to enable wealth creation rather than accumulation.

  • paul barker 6th Dec '16 - 3:18pm

    Whatever good things they did The Liberal Party failed because they deserved to fail. Its not just the splits, worse was the failure of vision, the failure to fight for Votes for All & the support for a pointless War. WW1 was little more than a squabble between theives & led directly to The Birth of Communism & Faschism, Liberals should have opposed The War & opposed British involvement.

  • Eddie Sammon 6th Dec '16 - 3:56pm

    Let’s also remember the consequences of not joining WW1: Britain’s international standing and arguably security would have been threatened if we just let Germany walk through Belgium, breaking the Treaty of London (1839) on way to invade our ally France as part of the Triple Entente and then Russia, also our ally at the time, afterwards.

  • Matt (Bristol) 6th Dec '16 - 4:35pm

    WW1 broke the Radical factions of Liberalism on which Lloyd George had previously ridden to power into several pieces:

    – Pacifists and internationalists (although initially a suppressed voice, but significant in numbers among some Protestant churches) abhorred the secrecy in which the deal with Russia – in particular – had been conducted, and became detached from the leadership; they also found some common cause with pacifist Labour MPs.

    – Irish moderate nationalists (previously a major parliamentary ally of the Liberal party) struggled to survive amid the tension between the Liberal need to enter into coalition with the Tories and Unionists to secure and English and Scottish parliamentary consensus on conduct of the war, with their own nation’s opposition to conscription. This would eventually lead to uprising and civil war.

    – Pro-war left-leaning radicals found themselves forced into alliance with pro-war Labour members and trade Unionists and found they got on rather well. When Labour reformed into one party after the war, some Liberals came along for the ride.

    L-G then, in the middle of the war, although possibly for the right reasons, allowed himself to be put at the head of what was effectively a Tory initiated coup within the wartime coalition that exploited internal Liberal tensions, effectively destroyed the coalitions of the Left that had previously existed prior to 1914 and exalted a ‘great man’ theory of leadership.

    He the resulting ‘Coalition Liberal party’ were left dependent on a support network of industrialists and businessmen, abandoning his previous role as the radical orator of a people’s insurgency for a finance-based centrism accompanied by patriotic rhetoric.

    He still managed to do some effective work in coalition during and after the war (including rationalisation of the railways, female suffrage and settlement of the peace treaty with Ireland) but much of these were undoing the effects of his own past policies and he bears some of the blame for ongoing Conservative dominance of British politics after 1922.

    HIs subsequent work to promote Keynesian thinking within the Liberal party – and, ironically, his repudiation of further coalition with the Tories in the later 20s – is of course a key influence on where the Lib Dems find themselves now, but I always feel deeply conflicted about him, charismatic and able as he clearly was.

  • I’m sorry, Roger, but your opening quote of course comes from LL.G. himself – a man who never knowingly undersold himself. For me his great days were limited to the People’s Budget. He depended on Asquith – the man you malign – to save him from the self inflicted wound of the Marconi scandal.

    That great Liberal J.M. Keynes was also sceptical : ‘Lloyd George was rooted in nothing…. void and without content… a being who lives and feeds on his immediate surroundings’.

    Haig too was sceptical. Diary, “‘Wed 13 Sep 1916 Lloyd George has been with me during the past two days, so I have been able to notice the differences in the two men and to realise how much superior in many ways Mr Asquith is to L.G. I have got on with the latter very well indeed, and he is happy to help in every way he can. But he seems so flighty – makes plans and always changing them and his mind. On the other hand, Mr Asquith has such a clear and evenly balanced mind. Even in his cups, he was never fuddled, but knew exactly what he had seen and said during the day and to whom he had spoken. The P.M.’s visit was on business lines. L.G.’s has been a huge “joy ride” ! Breakfasts with Newspaper men, and posing for Cinema Shows pleased him more than anything else. You will gather I have no great opinion of L.G. as a man or a leader’.

    I’m afraid for me, Lloyd George was a man who squandered his talents and certainly was not ‘The Man Who Won the War’…. indeed his record on the persecution of conscientious objectors leaves much to question. Much modern scholarship would rate Asquith’s contribution in WW1 as in many ways superior.

    He, above anyone else, was the man who destroyed the Liberal Party with his Coupon election of November, 1918. Post war, I am also happy to rely on Professor Peter Simkin’s comment about “The self-serving War Memoirs of David Lloyd George”.

  • Barry Snelson 6th Dec '16 - 4:50pm

    To be fair to Asquith, and his weakness, he had just lost his eldest son Raymond at Guinchy, on the Somme.

  • Roger Roberts “When he died Churchill regarded him as the “greatest Welshman since the Tudors”

    Churchill (Gallipoli) and the Tudors., Two other dodgy lots.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Dec '16 - 5:44pm

    I sympathise with the mood of Lord Roberts , and our colleague , Eddie Sammon, and on this day do not want to rain on the parade of a significant figure.

    I share the same birthday as the truly fine , Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman, our unsung hero .As David Raw and I have agreed on this before , so I do so with him again. Campbell Bannerman is best.A man , as our first great modern leader who we can really have affection for.

    And it was the over a million who fought and perished in that monstrous war that won it .

  • Richard Underhill 6th Dec '16 - 6:33pm

    Radio 4 had a programme on Saturday 2/12/16, which I regret I missed.

  • Laurence Cox 7th Dec '16 - 5:09pm

    At least Lord Roger Roberts received his peerage as a recognition of his political work; had he been around at Lloyd George’s time he would have been expected to pay for it. The going rate for a peerage arranged through Ll G’s friend, Maundy Gregory, was £50k upwards and led to the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925.

  • Richard Underhill you can hear that Radio 4 LG programme at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0848f95

  • @ Laurence Cox I hope – and think – you’re right about Lord Roberts, Laurence.

    Though there were similarities between the Clegg regime and LLG.

    Suggest you do a web search on Seth Tevoz who wrote an interesting article on this in ‘The Liberator’ last year.

  • Simon Banks 7th Dec '16 - 10:51pm

    I agree with Paul about the Liberal Party’s crucial failure to back votes for all (in particular, votes for women). This was a cause precisely within the Liberal tradition. I do not agree that the First World War was pointless. The build-up to war included serious mistakes by all the major powers and irresponsible decisions on both sides, but was it illiberal to stand by our guarantee of Belgian neutrality? At the time of the Franco-Prussian war, Gladstone had warned both combatants that violation of Belgian neutrality would bring Britain in on the other side. What if France or Germany had then invaded Belgium?

    What was culpable was that Britain, together with all the European “Great Powers” except Austria-Hungary, refused to consider a negotiated peace once the scale of the bloodshed and the war of attrition (neither expected by the vast mass of experts) had become evident. But by then jingoism ruled away from the trenches.

  • Richard Underhill 10th Jan '17 - 2:02pm

    Dan Snow has a programme about David Lloyd George (no hyphen) on BBC Four TV on 10/1/2017 @ 21.00. Could they by any chance be related?

  • Richard Underhill 16th Jan '17 - 1:32pm

    Dan Snow said they he is descended from David Lloyd George and his first wife (Mynydd Ednyfed). He appears not to have read the biography by the bilingual Ffion Hague about “The Women in Lloyd George’s Life” because he did not know about the abortion and the quote from his secretary that “our love child will have to go”(page 282) which was therefore not a miscarriage. They also differ about his by-election majority.
    He quotes from Labour politician Roy Hattersley (now bearded) who has written extensively about the period and who might have been allowed to comment on the inclusion of Labour politicians in the 1916 coalition with Conservatives to win the war. Roy H. has also written about the competition between those who wanted to enfranchise women and those who wanted to expand the franchise for men. Both happened in 1917 for the postwar general election.
    Dan Snow knows a lot about military history and gives credit for the success of the naval convoy system in protecting non-military shipping, insisted on by a civilian politician against opposition from the Admiralty.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Jan '17 - 3:29pm

    TonyJ: Thank you, an excellent programme.

  • Well, to be fair, if Asquith was still PM, Britain could have lost the war. Asquith was a lukewarm and weak leader and tended to ”wait and see”. He tried to stick to laissez-faire during the war rather than intervene in armament production. Only the Ministry of Munitions led by Lloyd George showed real effort.

    Next, People’s Budget and Land Value Tax were Lloyd George and the Radical wing’s idea, not Asquith.

    During the interwar period, it was Lloyd George who helped shift the Liberal economic policy away from laissez-faire and towards interventionism and Keynesian. The reports Coal and Power 1924, Towns and the Land, Land and the Nation and more importantly, Britain’s Industrial Future 1928 were the results of Lloyd George’s effort (together with Liberal Summer School). The laissez-faire Asquith would have never deliver Central Electricity Board (delivered in 1926 by Stanley Baldwin’s Tories), not to mention these comprehensive reports.

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