1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lloyd George, David
LLOYD GEORGE, DAVID (1863-), British statesman (see 16.832). After the constitutional conference of 1910 had failed, Mr. Lloyd George took his full share in the party campaign which ushered in the second general election of that year. He was especially sarcastic about the proposal for a Referendum, which was put in the forefront of Unionist policy. “A prohibition tariff against Liberalism,” he called it. After the general election of Dec. 1910, which showed that the campaign of the Liberals against the Lords' veto had merely enabled them to maintain the somewhat precarious position established by the general election of the previous Jan., Mr. Lloyd George left the prosecution of the Parliament bill, and the subjugation of the Lords by means of a threat of promiscuous swamping, to the Prime Minister and other colleagues; and he devoted himself to the enthusiastic forwarding of his social programme, which was to show Labour that he and his party could and would do more to raise the condition of the workers than their professed advocates. His budget, which, owing to a realized surplus of £5,600,000, did not raise taxation, provided £1,500,000 for sanatoria for consumptives and £250,000 for the payment of members — a cause dear to the heart of Labour. This latter provision was carried in Aug. after a somewhat perfunctory Unionist protest in debate, by a majority of nearly a hundred.
But his principal contribution to social reform was in his National Insurance bill, providing insurance for all workers by means of contributions from employers, employed and the State. By it there was set up not merely unemployment insurance, administered under the Board of Trade, but National health insurance, which imposed a somewhat complicated card and stamp system on all employments, including even that of domestic service. In order to work the system, the coöperation of the doctors was essential, and the terms offered were hardly attractive. Mr. Lloyd George soared to uncommon heights of eloquence in pressing his scheme upon Parliament and the country, appealing earnestly for a measure which would relieve undeserved misery, help to prevent much wretchedness, and arm the nation until it conquered “the pestilence that walketh in darkness and the destruction that wasteth at noonday.” Though benevolently received at first, the bill soon met with the banded opposition of the doctors, who protested that the terms offered the profession were absurdly inadequate; and it was far from popular with either the employing or the employed class, both of whom resented the liabilities imposed upon them, and the cumbersome process of stamp-affixing. This general unpopularity cost the Government some seats at by-elections; but Mr. Lloyd George stood firm, and the bill duly became law. But the doctors held out even after the bill was passed. The negotiations, carried on for more than a year, produced no agreement, and it looked as if the Act would break down through a boycott by the medical profession. But owing to Mr. Lloyd George's mingled diplomacy and tenacity, the minority in favour of acceptance slowly grew, and a sufficient number of panel doctors were registered to bring the medical benefit into effect on the appointed day early in Jan. 1913. Thereafter the opposition to the Act gradually died away, as its benefits to all parties became evident. A year later, in Feb. 1914, Mr. Lloyd George could claim that, out of 22,500 general practitioners in Great Britain, over 20,000 were on the panels.
In the discussions of the two bills going forward in the years 1912-4 under the Parliament Act, the Irish Home Rule bill and the Welsh Church bill, Mr. Lloyd George did not take a prominent part, though he was heartily in favour of both. Indeed he had been throughout one of the principal promoters of disestablishment in Wales, and, when he did speak, advocated it with almost apostolic fervour; but the conduct of the measure was in the hands of Mr. McKenna. This cause appealed to him not merely on its religious, but also on its social, side. It was, however, another social change, that affecting the land, to which, after National Insurance, he devoted his principal attention from the autumn of 1912 down to the outbreak of the World War. He even accused his opponents of dragging the red herring of Ulster across the trail of his projects of land reform. His earliest political campaign in Wales had been aimed against the landed interest; and he had made a further move in that direction in the taxation of land values in his budget of 1909. Though the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, formally disclaimed the notorious specific of advanced land reformers, the single tax on land, he sanctioned an unofficial committee of inquiry which Mr. Lloyd George desired to institute in order to investigate rural grievances. The first essential condition of every social reform, Mr. Lloyd George said at Aberdeen in Nov. 1912, was change in the land system, which was still in its essence feudal. The first purpose of the land, he said, should be the provision of sustenance and shelter for the cultivator. The movement attracted a considerable amount of public support; and he found it a convenient subject to which to direct public attention after the shock to confidence produced in the spring of 1913 by the Marconi revelations, which showed, in the general estimation, a reprehensible carelessness in the private financial operations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (see English History). He advised purists to recall the manner in which landlord parliaments had bartered away the common land. The Liberals, he said at Sutton-in-Ashfield in Aug., were about to march against the central position where land monopoly was entrenched. During the autumn he made many eloquent speeches in different districts of England and Wales in support of his movement, denouncing agricultural conditions, bad wages, atrocious housing, damage to crops by game, insufficient prospect of small holdings; and also promising relief to harassed leaseholders in towns. At Swindon on Oct. 22 he detailed a ministerial scheme, which should recast the whole conditions of land monopoly. The main provision was the establishment of a Ministry of Lands, with comprehensive powers for the supervision of everything connected with land, and with a number of roving or local commissioners by whom in a general way these powers would be exercised. The Unionists scoffed at the idea of these hordes of despotic officials; and the course of events in 1914 prevented the scheme from ever seeing the light as a Government bill. But the spirit in which Mr. Lloyd George pursued his campaign was shown in a speech at Pwllheli in December. The landlord, he said then, was no more necessary to agriculture than a gold chain to a watch; a breath of liberty must be brought into the villages.
To realize the promises of these social campaigns Mr. Lloyd George required ever-increasing millions from the national purse. Indeed he may fairly be charged with having turned the Treasury from a department to control and limit expenditure into a spending department. Between the time when he took over the Exchequer in 1908 from Mr. Asquith and his last budget before the war, that of 1914, the national revenue and expenditure increased by about £55,000,000, reaching in 1914 nearly £210,000,000 in all. Besides the social expenditure, the other main item of increase was, of course, the navy estimates; and Mr. Lloyd George, in an interview published on the first day of 1914, declared that Liberalism would be false to its trust if it did not seize the opportunity of what he asserted to be the improvement in Anglo-German relations to diminish expenditure on armaments. Happily, though many Liberal associates responded, the common sense of the Cabinet and of the public prevented any such suicidal operation, and the navy estimates laid before the House were the highest on record. To meet the increased expenditure Mr. Lloyd George, who had been content to mark time in his budget for 1913, made, in 1914, new proposals which carried to a further pitch the principles of the budget of 1909. He had to meet a deficit of £5,330,000, which he increased to £9,800,000 by further larger grants for social purposes, such as education, health and insurance. To procure this heavy additional sum he took £1,000,000 from the Sinking Fund and then fell back once more on income tax, supertax and death duties. There were to be increases of the higher grades of income tax, which was to rise to 1s. 4d.; supertax was to begin with incomes of £3,000, rising to the same maximum of 1s. 4d.; and the rates of death duties were to be raised from all estates over £60,000, rising to a maximum of 20% for a million. There was also to be a national system of valuation for local taxation, including the taxation of site values. An outcry from Liberals no less than Conservatives caused him to abandon the extra penny on the income tax, so that the maximum would be only 1s. 3d., and therefore to postpone many of the grants for social purposes for a year. But, with some modifications, the rest of the budget passed, not without difficulty, into law.
With all these schemes of social betterment in his head he was eager for short-cuts in the matter of Irish Home Rule. At Huddersfield on March 21 he violently attacked the House of Lords and the province of Ulster, denounced the doctrine of “optional obedience,” and dwelt on the necessity of settling the Home Rule controversy in order to open the way to deliverance from social wretchedness. At the Mansion House in July he insisted that in view of the threatened war between capital and labour at home and between Nationalist and Orangeman in Ireland, it was the duty of responsible men of all parties to work for peace; and he himself took part in the abortive Buckingham Palace Conference, and impressed his opponents with the sincerity of his desire for an agreed settlement.
The sudden approach of the World War threatened an even more complete end to his social Utopias. Accordingly, in spite of the fact that he had made in 1911, at the time of the Agadir incident, a spirited declaration that Great Britain was determined at all hazards to maintain her place among the Great Powers, he was slow to realize her peril and her duty in the last days of July, and clung, down to a late hour, to the policy of neutrality. When once, however, he was convinced, by the German violation of Belgium, that honour and justice and human liberty demanded British intervention in arms, he reverted to his position of 1911, and was from the beginning to the end the most resolute of all British ministers to prosecute the war to a triumphant conclusion.
As Chancellor of the Exchequer it was his duty to provide at once against a financial collapse. Ever since the budget of 1909 there had been a coldness between him and the natural friends of the Exchequer, the bankers and merchants of the City of London; but he and they buried the hatchet at once, and he had their advice and aid in the measures which were promptly taken. He availed himself liberally of the assistance of his friend, Lord Reading, in this connexion, with excellent results. On Nov. 17 1914 he introduced the first war budget. He had to meet a deficit of nearly £340,000,000; and he determined to follow the precedents set by Pitt and Gladstone and to raise a considerable portion by taxation. Accordingly he doubled the income tax and supertax; added an extra ½d. a half-pint on beer; and raised the tax on tea by 3d. a pound. He calculated that in a full year his new taxation would provide over £65,000,000, and for the current year he raised £2,750,000 by a partial suspension of the Sinking Fund. To meet the remainder of the deficit he announced a War Loan of £350,000,000 at 3½% issued at 95. Moreover, in order to further the recruiting campaign he made eloquent appeals this autumn to those sections of the people with whom he was peculiarly associated, to Welshmen at the Queen's Hall in London and at Criccieth, and to the Nonconformists at the City Temple. He dwelt on his own record as a man of peace; but insisted that peace could not have been had this August without national dishonour. If treaties could be disregarded as “scraps of paper,” why should any regard be paid to bank-notes and bills of exchange? He appealed to the great principles of Duty, Patriotism, Sacrifice. Peace at any price was not a Christian principle. The only way to establish peace on earth was by making the way of the peace-breaker too hard for rulers to tread.
Early in the next year, 1915, Mr. Lloyd George attended a conference of finance ministers in Paris, where it was agreed that each of the Allies should bring to the common cause that which they were most competent to supply, without reference to any principle of equal sharing by all. This was one of the first of those services to the cause of more intimate coöperation among the Allies which he was to make peculiarly his own in subsequent years. There was no change of taxation in his budget this spring. He bent his whole energies this year to the increase of munitions of war, wherein British supplies were lamentably deficient. He first sounded the note on March 9 in introducing a new and drastic Defence of the Realm bill, whose object was the mobilization of industrial resources, and which gave Government wide powers of commandeering factories capable of turning out munitions. He called a conference of trade-union representatives on March 17 with a view to preventing strikes and stoppage of work and removing all restrictions on output; and announced that Government would limit the profits of employers. He pointed to drink as one of the great drawbacks to increased output. “We are fighting,” he said, “Germany, Austria and drink; and as far as I can see the greatest of these three deadly foes is drink.” The regulation of drink was relegated to a Board of Control with wide powers. But, in the face of a minimizing speech from Mr. Asquith at Newcastle, Mr. Lloyd George enlarged in the House of Commons on the absolute necessity of an enormously increased output of munitions, and of munitions of a different kind. Public opinion strongly supported him, with the result that, in the Coalition Ministry which Mr. Asquith formed in May, a new department of munitions was created, with Mr. Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions.
He flung himself with ardour into this new work; appealed for and obtained the coöperation of eminent men of business and experts, divided up the country into 10 munition areas, went in person to the great centres of trade and manufacture, Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff, Glasgow, and urged the imperious necessity of setting to work as one man, of removing all limiting restrictions, of planting the flag on the workshops. He was indefatigable in conferences with the unions to persuade men to consent to abrogate the Eight Hours' Act and to consent to labour dilution, and to suspend all hampering rules, promising that all should be restored in their integrity after the war. He had a considerable measure of success, owing largely no doubt to the confidence felt by the working-men in a minister who had devoted himself so whole-heartedly to social betterment. He took special powers in the various Munitions Acts to deal summarily with labour difficulties in the factories. Meanwhile, all over the country, shops that had previously turned out utensils of peace were converted into factories of munitions; new factories were rising, sometimes in the most secluded and unlikely spots, and volunteers, men and women, were pressed into the service. The heartening orations which Mr. Lloyd George had made since the war broke out were collected into a shilling volume in the autumn under the title “Through Terror to Triumph.” In this winter and in the spring of 1916 there were troubles on the Clyde, where the very small leaven of revolutionary feeling was concentrated; but the strong measures, including the arrest of six ringleaders, which Mr. Lloyd George and his Munitions Ministry took, brought appeasement before long.
His absorption in his new and engrossing work did not leave Mr. Lloyd George much leisure for dealing with other aspects of the critical situation; but he made a strong speech in May in favour of the second and comprehensive Military Service bill of 1916, in which he said that he would rather be driven out of the Liberal party and indeed out of public life than have on his conscience that he opposed a bill calculated to supply the men who, in the opinion of the military authorities, would make all the difference between defeat and victory. No country, he maintained, had saved itself from great military peril without resort to compulsory service. A call was also made by his ministerial colleagues on his powers as a peacemaker after the Dublin rebellion had convinced Mr. Asquith that the system of Irish government had broken down and that there was a unique opportunity for a new departure. He was authorized to put himself in communication with all Irish parties and endeavour to promote a settlement. Accordingly in June be came to a preliminary arrangement with both Nationalists and Ulstermen, on the basis of bringing the Home Rule Act into immediate operation, and of introducing an Amending bill to cover only the period of the war and a short interval after it, during which the Irish members were to remain at Westminster and the six Ulster counties to continue under the Imperial Government. Neither southern Irish Unionists nor English ministers were happy about these proposals; and some small changes made to conciliate them were taken by Mr. Redmond as a ground for abandoning the negotiations, though Mr. Lloyd George maintained that the arrangement was still one that might well be accepted.
Meanwhile Mr. Lloyd George's relations to the war had become still more intimate and responsible. On the sudden death of Lord Kitchener, it was felt necessary to instal in the War Office a statesman on whose determination and energy both the nation and the Allies could rely; and Mr. Lloyd George had now come to fill so large a space in the civilian administration of the war that no other choice would be acceptable. He took Lord Derby, the hero of the voluntary recruiting campaign, as his Under-Secretary. The spirit in which -he proposed to administer his office was shown in an interview which he granted in Sept. to an American journalist. Britain, he said, had only begun to fight. The British Empire had invested thousands of its best lives to purchase future immunity for civilization. After all these sacrifices “the fight must be to a finish — to a knock-out” — a view which, when it was challenged, the House of Commons warmly supported. Desiring to promote the war in this spirit, he showed justifiable anxiety both about the number of exemptions allowed under the Military Service Acts and about the unsatisfactory results of recruiting in Ireland. But what gave him the keenest anxiety was the defective constitution and limited authority of the War Committee of the Cabinet. It was too large, it did not meet sufficiently often, it was subject to the over-ruling of the Cabinet, and its chairman, Mr. Asquith, was overburdened with other duties, including the leadership of the House of Commons, and had hardly the temperament of a resourceful and enterprising controller of war. Public opinion, in the press and in the Parliamentary War Committees, was becoming mobilized in this sense. Accordingly, on Dec. 1 Mr. Lloyd George wrote to Mr. Asquith demanding, on threat of resignation, that the conduct of the war should be placed in the absolute control of a small committee of four, sitting day by day, including himself but not including Mr. Asquith. In the negotiations which followed and in which Mr. Lloyd George made some concessions in order to win Mr. Asquith if possible, it became clear that the result would be to transfer the main conduct of the war from Mr. Asquith to Mr. Lloyd George. This was eventually effected by the formation of a Ministry under Mr. Lloyd George, with Mr. Bonar Law as his partner, and with the support not only of the Ministry but of the Labour party, and a large contingent of the Liberals, while Mr. Asquith and his immediate friends remained outside but did not oppose.
Mr. Lloyd George's advent to supreme power was well received, as his reputation as a War Minister had steadily augmented from Aug. 1914 onwards; and by constituting a War Cabinet of four persons in permanent session with full powers, and transferring the leadership of the House of Commons to Mr. Law in order to devote himself to the conduct of the war, he strengthened the good impression of the public. They welcomed also the evidence of determination given by the creation of new departments — Food, Labour, Shipping, Pensions, National Service; by the assumption by Government of control over shipping and mines, and by the appointment of business men and experts to some of the more important posts. They welcomed too his firm reply to the German Chancellor's peace overture: “We shall put our trust in an unbroken army rather than in a broken faith”; and his decision to summon the Prime Ministers of the Dominions to a series of special meetings of the War Cabinet. His popularity was increased by the discovery in Jan. 1917 of a conspiracy in a Derby family of anarchists to murder him and Mr. Henderson, his Labour colleague in the War Cabinet. Three of the family were found guilty at the Central Criminal Court and sentenced to substantial terms of penal servitude. Sympathy was again roused later in the year when it was suggested by a portion of the press that he — one of the most courageous of men — had left London to avoid an air-raid. The offenders apologized and withdrew, agreeing to indemnify the Prime Minister for his costs.
The successive measures taken by the Government in the next two years and a half to carry out its policy of subordinating everything to the prosecution of the war to a victorious conclusion, and of marshalling the whole of the resources of the nation for that one purpose, are detailed in the article on English History. So far as the work was done in Parliament it was carried through mainly by Mr. Bonar Law. Mr. Lloyd George adhered closely to his programme of concentrating his own energies on the day-by-day conduct of the war in the War Cabinet, and in the War Councils of the Allies of which he was so keen a promoter; and he spoke comparatively seldom in the House of Commons save at critical moments, or in order to give Parliament from time to time an authentic statement of the progress of the national cause. But he took upon himself the duty of heartening and inspiriting the nation, and made, as occasion served, eloquent appeals to his countrymen, sometimes by letters and messages, sometimes by speeches in the City of London or in big towns. In these he constantly sounded that note of sacrifice which had been the text on which he had preached in the first of his great war orations, in the City Temple in the autumn of 1914. Thus in Carnarvon in Feb. 1917 he appealed for support to the Government in men, money and labour, in the sacrifices of conveniences and even of comforts. In order to win, Britons must endure more. In the past the sacrifices had been too much relegated to the trenches. He appealed to housewives to see, each one in her own home, that not an ounce of food was eaten beyond the amount laid down by Lord Devonport, the Food Controller. Those who were doing nothing should do something; those who were doing something should do more and all should do their best. Everyone who had got enough land to grow a potato or a cabbage must use it for that purpose. If train services were inconvenient and fares increased, people should remember that the limitation of railway facilities helped the army in France. At Dundee in July he urged the cheerful acceptance of restrictions which, he declared, could not yet be regarded as privations. In a message to the nation at the beginning of the critical last year of war, he wrote: —
at the front we all know. Despite all that they have gone through, they are still facing frost and mud, privation and suffering, wounds and death, with undaunted courage, that mankind may be freed from the tyranny of militarism and rejoice in lasting freedom and peace. No sacrifice that we who stay at home are called to make can equal or faintly approach what is daily and hourly demanded of them. So long as they are called upon to endure these things letus see to it that we do not take our ease at the price of their sacrifice.
He appealed during this year to Labour men to surrender the pledges given them about recruiting, to farmers to concentrate on potato-growing, to women to abandon a life of ease and come upon the land, and to munition workers to remember their exemption from the dangers of the front and not imperil the national cause by wanton strikes.
At the same time he never failed to proclaim that victory could be won if all did their best and maintained a stout heart. At the Guildhall in Jan. 1917 he told his hearers that the feeling of the Allies at their recent conference in Rome was that if victory was difficult defeat was impossible. The Allied peoples were looking more and more to Great Britain. She was to them like a great tower in the deep: the hope of the oppressed and the despair of the oppressor. While there was much, he told the people of Carnarvon in Feb., in the existing state of affairs — especially the “piratical devices” of the German submarine — to cause anxiety, he had never had any doubt of ultimate victory; neither had he any doubt that, before we reached it, there were many broad and turbulent rivers to cross which the nation must help to bridge. Even at the period when the losses from submarines were greatest, he refused to be daunted and reassured the country by his confidence in the Admiralty's plan of defence, and in the adequacy of the food supplies. He constantly declared that British difficulties were declining while those of the enemy were augmenting. He welcomed, in April, the entry of the United States into the war as not merely a vindication of the character of the struggle as a great fight for human liberty, but also as an assurance that the war would be effective and successful and would result in a beneficent peace. In her, he said in Oct., the Central Powers had to deal with a country of infinite resources that had never yet been beaten. He set her advent against the defection of Russia, which was a bitter disappointment to him, as he had hailed her revolution as a sure promise that the Prussian military autocracy would, before long, be overthrown, and as he clung, till the establishment of Soviet government in Oct., to the hope that the demoralization of her armies was not beyond repair. Still, although his war plans and those of the Allies, which had been based on the assumption that the Germans would have to retain large forces on the eastern front, were ruined by her cessation of fighting, he could point in Dec. to the number of battles fought during the year on the western front in which the Germans had been beaten, and to the prestige which British arms had won by the capture of Bagdad and Jerusalem.
The critical situation produced by the rapid and victorious German advance in March 1918 called forth all his energy. He had already largely coördinated Allied military operations by means of the Supreme War Council at Versailles; he now, through his colleague, Lord Milner, secured a unity of military command at the front. He sent immediately across to France a large portion of the home defence force — it was complained with some justice that he should have reënforced Sir Douglas Haig with these troops some weeks earlier; he effected a further drastic comb-out from essential industries; he introduced in Parliament a man-power bill of excessive stringency; he sent his most capable and vigorous colleague, Lord Milner, to the War Office; he was urgent with the American authorities to hurry up as many of their troops as possible into the fighting line. The situation was saved, owing mainly to the skilful strategy of Gen. Foch and to the magnificently efficient fighting machine into which Sir Douglas Haig had converted his armies. Accordingly, Mr. Lloyd George could assure the Empire, in a message on the fourth anniversary of the war in Aug., that although the battle was not yet won, yet, thanks to the extraordinary bravery of all the Allied armies, the prospects of victory had never been so great. All that was wanted was to “hold fast.”
Mr. Lloyd George was reproached by his critics with too great a disposition to encourage and strengthen the various subsidiary fronts, such as Mesopotamia, Palestine, Salonika and Italy, at the expense of the western front, where the struggle must mainly be decided; and in this and other respects to overrule, on questions of what may be called the higher strategy, the decisions of his military advisers. If that be so, he might plead the example of Chatham; and at any rate the eventual and dramatic success of what were called derisively “side-shows” contributed not a little to the downfall of the Central Powers. He was also charged with reducing his colleagues to ciphers, and acting as a dictator rather than a first minister. The loyalty with which he was served by eminent men who had been formerly in sharp antagonism to him is sufficient to show that his colleagues recognized that he assumed no more authority than was inevitable when the State was in danger. But undoubtedly the system of a Supreme Council of the Allies represented by their Prime Ministers, which he helped to establish in war and which continued for a while in peace, tended to enhance his authority and position, and in particular to reduce the importance of his Foreign Minister. Moreover, it was impossible for him and his colleagues not to realize that it was preëminently in him, after Lord Kitchener's death, that the British nation and Empire trusted to bring them safely through the war. He never contemplated, or allowed the country to consider conceivable, any other termination of the war than a fight to a finish. He would not palter either with any of the insincere or inadequate German overtures, with President Wilson's early formula of “peace without victory,” with the Russian phrase “no annexations and no indemnities,” or with Lord Lansdowne's negotiated peace; he insisted on eliminating the doctrine of the “freedom of the seas” from President Wilson's Fourteen Points. He steadily pressed for the war aims originally laid down by Mr. Asquith, though, an idealist himself, he expressed them in terms agreeable to idealists, such as President Wilson and the loftier spirits among the Labour men. On the publication of Lord Lansdowne's letter he made his position clear. It was not the extreme pacifist, he said, who was the danger, but the man who thought there was a halfway-house between defeat and victory. To end a war entered upon to enforce a treaty, without reparation for the infringement of that treaty, merely by entering into a new and more comprehensive treaty, would indeed be a farce in the setting of a tragedy. “To stop short of victory,” he wrote in Aug. 1918, “would be to compromise the future of mankind.” He was as good as his word. Hostilities were closed with each of the enemy allies in succession — Bulgaria, Turkey, Austria-Hungary and Germany — by what was virtually a surrender, and a surrender on terms implying severe defeat. It was in keeping with the character of a man who, a lay preacher himself, regarded the war as a sacred, religious duty, that, after reading the terms of the Armistice from his place in the House of Commons on Nov. 11, he should ask Parliament to come, with Chancellor and Speaker at their head, to render thanks to God at St. Margaret's.
In spite of his bitter partisan sallies in the past, Mr. Lloyd George was a great conciliator, as he showed over and over again both in his dealings with Britain's Allies, and in his interventions in Labour disputes; and therefore it is not unnatural that he should appreciate highly the value of government by Coalition. Owing to it he had the satisfaction, even during the war, of promoting social welfare by means of a comprehensive Education bill; and of settling on a wide basis the question of reform, including the extension of the franchise to women — an extension of which he was always a warm advocate, though the militants had, in the past, unfairly flouted him as a renegade. It was his firm belief that by Coalition it would be possible to settle the Irish question. The convention which he set up in 1917 gave hope of success but its report was not sufficiently unanimous; and his vacillation in first promising, and then refusing, to introduce a Home Rule bill after the convention in 1918, together with his attempt to force conscription upon Ireland, contributed to the spread of Sinn Fein disaffection; though there was a plausible justification at the time for each of his actions. Coalition also helped towards that great constitutional development of the Imperial War Cabinet, with its corollaries of imperial preference and conservation of the essential raw materials of the Empire, for which, even apart from the war, Mr. Lloyd George's Ministry will always be honourably remembered.
Hence, when a general election, long overdue, and now rendered inevitable by the passage of a reform bill, was impending on the termination of hostilities, Mr. Lloyd George, with the cordial assent of Mr. Law, determined to maintain the Coalition, and to ask the country to return candidates pledged to support the Government in the negotiations of peace and in the problems of reconstruction that must immediately arise. As he wrote to Mr. Law, the Government had had a unity both in aims and in action which was very remarkable in a Coalition Government. This was, it may be pointed out, the less surprising, as the platform of social reform united Mr. Lloyd George and his followers among the Liberals not merely to the moderate Labour leaders but to Mr. Law and the great majority of his party, who inherited the Disraelian tradition of Sybil and of the social measures of the 1874 Government. It was a policy of this character that the joint leaders put forward in their manifesto, and they invited candidates who agreed with their aims to pledge them their support. This was surely not unreasonable, as they could not rely upon organized parties; but the Liberals who followed Mr. Asquith, and the Labour party as a whole, though they both claimed independence of the Coalition and stood practically as opposition candidates, denounced the practice as unfair, and nicknamed the pledge a “coupon.” The result was an overwhelming vote of confidence in the Coalition, and the absolute rout of the pacifists, the discomfiture of Mr. Asquith and the Liberals who refused to follow Mr. Lloyd George, and the comparative failure of an ambitious effort by the Labour party.
This enormous majority gave Mr. Lloyd George a position of exceptional strength and authority at the Peace Conference of 1919 at Paris, which he attended as the principal British plenipotentiary. He established a new precedent by taking to the conference with him not merely some of his principal colleagues, but also the Prime Ministers and other representatives of the Dominions and of India; who, as representing peoples whose fighting strength had contributed materially to the victory, were obviously entitled to have their share in arranging terms of peace and to sign the treaty ultimately agreed upon. At the conference he was one of three principal figures, along with President Wilson and M. Clemenceau; and his remarkable powers of conciliation were often required to harmonize the very divergent points of view of these eminent men. He strongly supported the President's idealistic scheme of a League of Nations, having himself always regarded the war as one to end war. At the same time he sympathized with M. Clemenceau's resolve to obtain security for France, though he refused to consent to the annexation, with that object, of German populations, either to France herself or her protégé, Poland. But he was ready to protect France in another fashion by signing along with President Wilson a separate Treaty of Alliance with her, whereby Great Britain and the United States agreed to come to her assistance in the event of an unprovoked attack on her by Germany. The agreement with England was, however, only to come into force after the ratification of that with the United States — a ratification which was never accorded. He insisted also on German disarmament and German reparations — which latter should only be limited by German ability to pay. Further, he pressed for the due trial of war criminals, and, among them, for that of the most responsible of all, the Emperor William. He signed the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, and obtained its prompt acceptance by the House of Commons. The King in Aug. conferred on Mr. Lloyd George the Order of Merit in recognition of his preeminent services, “both in carrying the war to a victorious end and in securing an honourable peace.”
But the signing of the treaty with Germany, and of the treaties with the other enemy Powers, by no means settled finally the issues between the Allies and their late foes. Mr. Lloyd George had on frequent occasions in the next two years to attend meetings of the Supreme Council at Paris, San Remo, Spa, Lympne and occasionally in London, in order to deal with difficult questions arising — to take a few of the most critical points — now out of the provisions relating to German reparations or disarmament, now out of those providing for the future of Silesia. In regard to some of these matters the points of view of France and Britain were so different that even Mr. Lloyd George was hard put to it to find an acceptable formula; and in regard to Silesia he dexterously managed in the summer of 1921 to avoid an open breach by referring the whole matter to the League of Nations. One provision of the Treaty of Versailles, which both Mr. Lloyd George and the British public considered important — namely, that which provided for the trial of Emperor William — proved abortive; as the Government of the Netherlands maintained its right of asylum, and refused to surrender him to the Allies. One foreign question, indirectly connected with the treaty, occasioned Mr. Lloyd George great trouble. He strongly condemned the Soviet Government of Russia, and the principles upon which it was based; but he gradually extricated British troops from their commitments to various Russian generals who were waging civil war upon it; and, as it established its position, yielded to the desire of the Labour party for the reopening of trade with Russia, but on the conditions of a release of all British prisoners and a cessation of foreign revolutionary propaganda.
The immediate prospect of the Peace Conference in Paris and the probability that international complications arising out of the war and of the peace would necessarily weigh heavily on the Prime Minister for many months, if not years, caused Mr. Lloyd George, when he made a partial reconstruction of his ministry after the general election, to continue the arrangement by which Mr. Bonar Law led the House of Commons. But, after the close of the conference, he himself was more frequently in his place in Parliament than during the last three years; and the rank and file after a while began to question whether this war arrangement should not come, with other war arrangements, to an end. On this point, however, Mr. Lloyd George remained firm; though he gratified constitutionalists by restoring, after the Treaty of Versailles, the old form of Cabinet Government, only with the addition of a permanent secretariat.
His principal domestic preoccupations during the years immediately following the peace were the industrial unrest, which continued with practically no intermission for two years and a half, and which demanded, again and again, his personal, intervention; the social reforms promised in the joint manifesto, which were to make Britain, in his own words, “a land fit for heroes to live in”; the difficulties of finance and of controlling the extravagant expenditure which war habits had generated; and finally the settlement, if possible, of Ireland and the Irish question. He laid down his policy on the labour upheaval in the debate on the Address in 1919. The Government would welcome a general investigation into the whole causes of industrial unrest; one individual trade could not be considered without reference to the rest. A great increase in some essential ingredients like coal or transport might easily destroy the chances of restarting British export industry. Every demand which was put forward by any body of workmen would be examined fairly and carefully by the Government with the view of removing any legitimate grievance; but the Government were determined to fight Prussianism in the industrial world, as they had fought it on the continent of Europe, with the whole might of the nation. He had at once to deal with a threatened strike of coal-miners, and his was the energy which promptly set up the Sankey Commission to avert a coal-miners' strike in the early spring of 1919, and got the Commission to issue a preliminary report in three weeks. He sought also at once a wider remedy. He called an Industrial Conference of masters and men, and persuaded it to set up a provisional joint committee. He addressed this body at its first meeting, terming it a peace congress, and saying that with so much of the world in pieces, Britain might have to save civilization. It was necessary to find the legitimate boundary between wages and hours on the one side and adequate production on the other. The huge war debt must be met by saving or by increasing productivity. Employers and workmen should come to an understanding by some sort of dead level of talk. Though the committee came to an agreement on the basis of a legal 48-hour week, minimum time rates of wages of universal application, and the creation of a permanent industrial council, half masters half workmen, to advise, the Government on industrial questions, the article on English History shows that this well-intentioned effort was of no avail to calm the unrest.
To take one or two instances of his methods. Of the railway strike in Aug. 1919 he said that he could recall no strike entered into so lightly, with so little justification and with such entire disregard of the public interest. He pointed out that the State was running the railways at a loss due mainly to the enormous increases in the wages of railway workers since the beginning of the war. He took strong measures and succeeded in stopping the strike after 10 days, though promising hardly any further concession than was previously offered. He declined absolutely to adopt the final report of the Sankey Commission and concede the nationalization of the coal industry. The Government had never, he said, committed themselves blindfold to whatever the Commission might recommend, and they had definitely decided that they could not undertake the State management of the mines. In the great coal dispute of the autumn of 1920, he insisted that there must be guarantees as to output before there could be an advance of wages, and that wages and output must advance together. He treated the refusal of Irish railwaymen in that year to carry munitions of war, which was backed in a half-hearted way by the English railwaymen, as a challenge to the whole constitution of the country and was prepared to close the Irish railways rather than submit.
A speech which he delivered at the City Temple on Sept. 17 1919 shows his general views of reconstruction. He appealed for brotherhood between nations and brotherhood between classes. He sketched in broad outline the fundamental changes which he wished to see in the political, social and industrial conditions of the United Kingdom. Slums would have to go, and he hoped that the great armaments would disappear, as also the wretched misunderstandings between Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. He looked forward to seeing waste in every shape and form disappear. But these changes could only be effected by patient work, in the spirit of comradeship of classes, a passionate desire to see justice done to all classes. He pleaded not only for the League of Nations, but for fair play between employers and employed. If workmen merely considered how much they could extort from employers at the cost, perhaps, of the community, or if employers only asked at how low a price they could buy off labour, the result would be disastrous. In this spirit, while prices were high and the fictitious boom in trade born of war was still in existence, he started the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Transport on large lines, encouraged Dr. Addison in a great housing scheme, for the reason that, as he said, adequate housing would make happy homes, which were the surest guarantee against agitation and unrest; he promoted legislation guaranteeing a minimum price of wheat and security of tenure to the farmer, and a minimum wage and better hours to the labourer; and he encouraged Mr. Austen Chamberlain to continue to lay the same, or greater, burdens on the taxpayer in peace, as that patriotic citizen had borne in patience during war.
Then in the late autumn of 1920 there came without warning a sharp depression in trade, and prices suddenly fell. This at once rendered acute the question of expenditure about which there had been many sporadic protests already. Mr. Lloyd George pointed out that the depression was universal, that it was desirable to remove Government control from trade as soon as possible, and that public and private economy were necessary on the strictest lines. He had already addressed a strong letter to the spending departments, but with little result; and in the previous year he had pointed to armaments as the only item on which considerable reductions could be made. But the public thought that there were other possibilities of reduction, especially in the grandiose schemes of Mr. Fisher, Dr. Addison and Sir Eric Geddes, the Ministers of Education, Health and Transport. This opinion was forcibly brought home to Mr. Lloyd George in the spring of 1921 by the rapid growth of an “Anti-Waste” party, unaffiliated to any of the historical connexions, which defeated Government candidates in by-election after by-election; and by the formation of a growing “cave,” in the ministerial ranks, of members who announced that they held themselves free to vote against the Government on questions of expenditure. Reluctant as Mr. Lloyd George, always a social reformer rather than an economist, was to abandon his cherished policy, he recognized that it was necessary to bow to public opinion. The greater part of Mr. Fisher's scheme was postponed; Sir Eric Geddes reduced the dimensions of his railway bill; Dr. Addison's proposals were so mutilated that he resigned; the agricultural policy was reversed; the abandonment of control of mines was advanced by four months in order to save the subsidy, and incidentally the greatest strike of recent times was precipitated. But the movement for a severe reduction of expenditure still gathered force.
There was nothing nearer to Mr. Lloyd George's heart than to effect an Irish settlement, and he carried through Parliament in 1919-20 a Home Rule bill creating two self-governing Parliaments, one at Dublin and one at Belfast, with a Federal Council as a link between them making for the unity of Ireland. He explained to Parliament that the measure rested on three basic facts: — (1) three-fourths of the Irish people were bitterly hostile and rebels at heart; (2) N.E. Ireland was alien in race sympathy and tradition from the rest; (3) severance of the United Kingdom and Ireland would be fatal to both. The first of these facts was abundantly illustrated in 1919-21. The Sinn Feiners of the south kept up a ruthless campaign of assassination against soldiers, police and well-affected civilians, sparing neither age nor sex. Mr. Lloyd George reënforced both soldiers and police, and backed them up strongly, even palliating unauthorized and severe reprisals which newly recruited police without sufficient discipline committed during several weeks. But though he assured Parliament and the public, at intervals, that he had murder by the throat, the campaign was still continued; and Sinn Fein held such a control of southern Ireland that it captured in 1921 without contests the whole of the seats for the southern Parliament except those allotted to Trinity College, and then its members refused to come and take the oath. But the northern Parliament, where the Unionists had a large majority, was opened with great éclat in the spring by the King in person, who adjured Irishmen to “forgive and forget.” The words chimed in with a great yearning in the public mind for peace. Mr. Lloyd George seized the occasion, asked Mr. De Valera, the Sinn Fein leader, and Sir James Craig, the Ulster Prime Minister, to come and see him, and a truce to bloodshed was arranged pending negotiations. Mr. Lloyd George's subsequent offer of “Dominion Home Rule,” with certain safeguards, the Sinn Fein rejections of it during August and September, and its acceptance in December, are dealt with in the article on Ireland.
Mr. Lloyd George also held further sessions in the summer of 1921 of the Imperial Cabinet, or Conference, as some prefer to call it. The decisions mainly affected the treaty with Japan, the renewal of which was approved, and the Pacific question. While the Dominion Premiers were still in session with British ministers in London, President Harding issued an invitation to a Conference on Disarmament at Washington, which was accepted. The Imperial Cabinet suggested a preliminary Pacific Conference which the Dominion ministers might attend, but the United States would not agree.
Mr. Lloyd George lost in the early spring of 1921 two valuable colleagues, Lord Milner and Mr. (afterwards Lord) Long; and he suffered a still greater loss in the sudden break-down in health of his partner in Government, Mr. Bonar Law, with whom his relations had been peculiarly intimate and cordial. But he arranged that the newly elected Unionist leader, Mr. Austen Chamberlain, should occupy exactly the same position as his predecessor. He was as convinced of the necessity of Coalition as ever, though there were some signs of disaffection on both wings, and the “Anti-Waste” movement was proving a disintegrating force. His own astounding vitality appeared to have suffered no diminution. There was no sign of weariness or lack of grasp in his prompt action after the King's speech at Belfast, in spite of the fact that he had been uninterruptedly in high office for nearly 15 years, had been in the forefront of political strife almost the whole time, had carried the country with safety and success through the greatest war in history, and had survived an amount of abuse from different quarters that would have crushed any but a very exceptional personality. Though public confidence in him was not so general in the summer of 1921 as it had been at the close of the war, no statesman had yet arisen who could seriously be put in competition with him for the post of Prime Minister. (G. E. B.)