Famous and not so famous Brits – David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George, the only prime minister for whom English was a second language
Compared to the Scots and the Irish, there are very few high-profile Welshmen, or Welshwomen, in twenty-first century British public life – which is surprising, given the prominent role played by the Welsh in the twentieth century. David Lloyd George (1863- 1945), nicknamed “the Welsh Wizard”, was the most powerful Welshman in twentieth-century British politics, a leading figure from 1906 until 1922, and is regarded by some historians as one of the greatest modern prime ministers. His parents were both Welsh-speakers, so he is also said to be the only prime minister for whom English was a second language.
He was born in Manchester but his parents soon returned to Wales, where he was brought up in the Welsh Nonconformist tradition (although he had no great religious faith). He practiced as a solicitor in North Wales and joined the Liberals, in those days one of the two main political parties; he was elected as Liberal MP for Caernarvon Boroughs in 1890. He was the youngest MP in the House of Commons and gained a reputation as a campaigner on Welsh issues, such as temperance and the disestablishment of the Church of England. He toyed with the idea of setting up a Welsh equivalent of the Irish national movement, but this proved unpopular; nevertheless, he continued to campaign energetically. He gained notoriety for opposing the Boer War, yet remained a supporter of the British Empire – as long as it was not based on what he called “racial arrogance”.
He became a Cabinet Minister in 1906 and in 1908 became Chancellor of the Exchequer. The 1900s were a time of social unrest in Britain, with a growing gap between rich and poor. Lloyd George’s 1909 ‘People’s Budget’ introduced social insurance, which was to be partly financed by land and income taxes. The budget infuriated rich landowners and was rejected by the Conservative majority in the House of Lords. This move led, however, to the Parliament Act of 1911, by which the Lords lost their power of veto. After this, the Parliament Bill for social reform and Irish Home Rule, which Lloyd George strongly supported, was passed, as were the National Insurance Act and the Unemployment Insurance Act. These reforms began the creation of what was to become the British welfare state, and at the same time prevented the working class from embracing revolutionary politics. In 1915, Lloyd George was appointed minister of munitions in Asquith’s wartime coalition; then, in July 1916, Secretary of State for War. In December 1916, with the support of the Conservative and Labour leaders, he replaced Asquith as prime minister. He proved a highly effective wartime leader and at the end of the war was Britain’s chief delegate to the Paris Peace Conference that drafted the Versailles Treaty. He seemed to be at the height of his powers; yet, he was now dependent on Conservative support. In 1921 he secured the settlement that established the Irish Free State, but his career ended when, in the summer of 1922, he was caught up in a scandal involving the selling of knighthoods and peerages. Soon afterwards, in October, the Conservatives withdrew from the coalition government, and Lloyd George was forced to resign as prime minister. He remained in Parliament, no longer at the centre of events, until, in 1944, he was made Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor. He died in the following year. Despite his considerable achievements as a reformer, wartime leader and statesman, his rise and fall illustrate Churchill’s dictum that “All political careers end in failure”.
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Also, please check out Lloyd George giving a speech in 1932, and other interesting film clips at http://www.markpack.org.uk/27836/lloydgeorge- is-still-on-youtube/