Tuesday, February 17, 2009

David Lloyd George, Part I

Simply put, David Lloyd George was too big for any single blog post!

The only British Prime Minister whose native language was not English, David Lloyd George, the irrepressible Welshman, was a phenomenon. Contemporary cartoonist David Low called him, “the best-hated statesman of his time as well as the best loved.” Low continued: “He must have been poison to the old school tie brigade, coming to the House an outsider, bright, energetic, irrepressible, ruthless, mastering with ease the House of Commons procedure, applying all the Celtic tricks in the bag, with a talent for intrigue that only occasionally got away from him.” One observer said that when Lloyd George spoke, “you had to hold onto your seat not to be carried away.” In his book Goodbye to All That, poet Robert Graves wrote: “The power of his rhetoric amazed me. The substance of the speech might be commonplace, idle and false, but I had to fight hard against abandoning myself with the rest of his audience. He sucked power from his listeners and spurted it back at them.”

This startling ability to sway a crowd with his speech seems to have been unsettling to many contemporaries, especially those who were also familiar with his political tactics, his shifts and turns. Lloyd George was famous for his slipperiness in political maneuvers, his loyalty to the common man against “the Dukes,” his unreliability, his sorrow for the men in the trenches of the war that he was directing, his being “a gambler without foresight.”

Coming from a close Welsh Nonconformist family, Lloyd George grew up a strict member of the Disciples of Christ, a part of the Stone-Campbell movement which had started in Ulster, jumped, the Atlantic, and jumped back to the United Kingdom. Its emphasis was on the rejection of creeds and the acceptance of "primitive Christianity." Related no doubt to the behavioral norms of his religious community, this crafty politician was also a famous public teetotaler, and in spite of his quite intimate awareness of the costs of the war, he spent at least some energy during the Great War decrying drink and promoting Temperance. “Drink,” the Liberal cabinet minister said in early 1915, “ is doing us more damage in the war than all the German submarines put together.” Inconsistent in much else, Lloyd George seems to have been consistent toward "the Drink Demon."

But mainly, the wartime Lloyd George was the tough war leader—a real analogue to Clemenceau in many ways—who was willing to do the hard tasks which would enable Britain to survive the war. At about the same time he was comparing Drink to Unlimited Submarine Warfare, Lloyd George declared, “All the engineering works of the country ought to be turned to the production of war material. The population ought to be prepared to suffer all sorts of deprivations and even hardships whilst this process is going on.”

When the war ended, he was, as usual, brilliant: “At eleven o’clock this morning came to an end the cruelest and most terrible War that has ever scourged mankind. I hope we may say that thus, this fateful morning, came to an end all wars.” In private, his public optimism was missing: "This war, like the next war, is a war to end war." One way or the other, his immediate concern from the Armistice on was the election looming on December 14, 1918. This would be the first election in which women were allowed to vote (and not all of them—only those age 30 and older). It would also be a “khaki election,” since the demobilized (demobbed) soldiers would already be returning to vote. The continuance of the heroism was a necessary and ubiquitous theme: “What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in."

One aspect of a Britain fit for heroes, and perhaps the salient thrust of his campaign, was that the Germans would pay. Paying for damage in France and Belgium of course The “hang the Kaiser” spirit was running high, and Lloyd George manipulated it. The result was a victory for the coalition that included Lloyd George’s Liberals: unlike Britain a generation later, the Britain of 1918 did not jettison its war leader as victory materialized. But of course, the victory brought with it the expectation the Lloyd George, having delivered victory in war, would deliver the German payments for the war in its wake. The crafty statesman might dodge and weave, but he couldn't shake himself loose from this constraint.

We have seen something of Woodrow Wilson’s preparations for the Peace. What might we say about those of David Lloyd George? “Diplomats,” he quipped during the weeks before the Conference, “were invented simply to waste time.” Speaking before the Conference plenary in January, the Prime Minister said, “The finest eloquence is that which gets things done; the worst is that which delays them.” His attitude, similar to that of le Tigre, was to move things along. (One gets the feeling that both Clemenceau and Lloyd George were exasperated with Wilson much of the time. Of course, they were exasperated with each other too.)

So how did he do this? I have said that David Lloyd George was too big for one post. So tune in later for Lloyd George Part II.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
Design of a Violent Century by Hunt Tooley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.