Saturday, January 01, 2011

Lloyd George - The Great Outsider.

If I had to choose one politician in British history who fascinates, it would be David Lloyd George. In many ways not an admirable man, but an extraordinarily devious, charismatic and influential man. Just read a review of Hattersley's biography by Paul Johnson in an old Spectator issue (one I'd marked to read sometime).

Let's consider his achievements, and think of them what you will. He laid the foundations of the Welfare State with old age pensions and national insurance. He provoked the row with the Lords which ended in their emasculation. In the Great War, he first solved the munitions shortage, then ousted his own party leader, Asquith and drummed the nation to victory. He solved the problem of Ireland by dividing it. He enlarged the British Empire and presided over it at its greatest extent. He smashed up the old Liberal Party of Gladstone and would have done the same for the Tories had not Baldwin bundled him out of office. He was a radical left-winger from North West Wales, whose first language was Welsh and who was Prime Minister and de facto leader of the Tory Party for 6 years. Few at the time , or since have doubted that Lloyd George won the war. Some respected historians reckon he was a greater war leader than Churchill. What a truly amazing man.

Unfortunately, any reference to Lloyd George must include his prodigious appetite for women. This was why his nickname 'The Goat' stuck - even though it was coined for another reason. His sexual compulsion was so great that in the twentieth century it would have been diagnosed as a psychotic condition - rather like Tiger Woods today perhaps. LG played a little golf, but his only recreation was women. Perhaps he came to mind tonight because I took in a few holes at Lakeside this afternoon.

When I stood beside his life size statue at the museum dedicated to his life at Llanystumwy, I was struck by how small and dapper a man he was in his prime. But not that small. His factotum, A J Sylvester is renowned to have said after seeing the great man naked "There he stood as naked as when he was born, the biggest organ that I've ever seen. It resembled a donkey's more than anything else...No wonder they are always after him and he after them." Perhaps Britain's greatest Prime Minister, and he would not have survived a week with today's media on his tail.

2 comments:

Dylan Jones-Evans said...

As someone from a town a few miles down the road from where Lloyd George was brought up and who was married in St John's Church in Llanystumdwy (and had to get permission from the Archbishop of Canterbury to do so), my admiration for him clearly knows no bounds!

Perhaps my favourite quote from the great statesman is the one that goes "A young man who isn't a socialist hasn't got a heart; an old man who is a socialist hasn't got a head".

Says it all.

Democritus said...

I read Hatterjee's biog over the Xmas break and was disappointed. About the only new insight I learn't was that Roy Jenkins loathed DLG - and given his biog of Asquith that was hardly a surprise!

The trouble with DLG biogs is that the excellent Grigg series ended in WW1 and it is clear that Hattersley relied very heavilly on secondary sources.

One doesn't expect to see original research from such a biographer, but the history of the 'coupon' coalition is of more interest now than for the best part of a century. It is a shame that a top rank (?) politician could not do a better job of evaluating such an interesting period from the perspective of the main player.

As for 'perhaps Britain's greatest PM', well I beg to differ. Looking only at the past 2 centuries:
1) Churchill
2) Peel
3) Gladstone
4) Attlee
5) Thatcher
6/7/8) Asquith / Lloyd George / Salusbury
9) Wilson
10) Disraeli