David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, (17 January 1863 – 26 March 1945) was a British Liberal statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom between 1916 and 1922.
Lloyd George was born in Manchester to Welsh parents. His father—a schoolmaster—died in 1864 and he was raised in Wales by his mother and her shoemaker brother, whose Liberal politics and Baptist faith strongly influenced Lloyd George; the same uncle helped the boy embark on a career as a solicitor after leaving school. Lloyd George became active in local politics, gaining a reputation as an orator and a proponent of a Welsh blend of radical Liberalism which championed nonconformism and the disestablishment of the Anglican church in Wales, equality for labourers and tenant farmers, and reform of landownership.
In 1890, he narrowly won a by-election to become the Member of Parliament for Caernarvon Boroughs, in which seat he remained for fifty-five years. Lloyd George served in Henry Campbell-Bannerman’s cabinet from 1905. After H. H. Asquith succeeded to the premiership in 1908, Lloyd George replaced him as Chancellor of the Exchequer. To fund the government’s extensive welfare reforms, he proposed taxes on land ownership and high incomes in a “People’s Budget” (1909), which the Conservative-dominated House of Lords rejected. The resulting constitutional crisis was only resolved after two elections in 1910 and the passage of the Parliament Act 1911. His budget was then enacted alongside the first National Insurance Act which helped to establish the modern welfare state. In 1913, he was embroiled in the Marconi scandal but he remained in office and struggled to impose Irish Home Rule until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 suspended its implementation.
As wartime Chancellor, Lloyd George strengthened the country’s finances and forged agreements with trade unions to maintain production. In 1915, Asquith formed a Liberal-led wartime coalition with the Conservatives and Labour. Lloyd George became Minister of Munitions and rapidly expanded production. In 1916, he was appointed Secretary of State for War but was frustrated by his limited power and clashes with the military establishment over strategy. Amid stalemate on the Western Front, confidence in Asquith’s leadership waned. He was forced to resign in December 1916; Lloyd George succeeded him as Prime Minister, supported by the Conservatives and some Liberals. He centralised authority through a smaller war cabinet, a new Cabinet Office and his “Garden Suburb” of advisers. To combat food shortages, he implemented the convoy system, established rationing and stimulated farming. After supporting the disastrous French Nivelle Offensive in 1917, he had to reluctantly approve Field Marshal Haig’s plans for the Battle of Passchendaele which resulted in huge casualities with little strategic benefit. Against the views of his commanders, he was finally able to see the Allies brought under one command in March 1918. The war effort turned to their favour that August and was won in November. In the aftermath, he and the Conservatives maintained their coalition with popular support following the December 1918 “Coupon” election. His government had extended the franchise to all men and some women earlier in the year.
Lloyd George was a major player in Paris Peace Conference of 1919 but the situation in Ireland worsened that year, erupting into the Irish War of Independence which lasted until Lloyd George negotiated independence for the Irish Free State in 1921. At home, he initiated reforms to education and housing but trade union militancy entered record levels, the economy became depressed in 1920 and unemployment rose; spending cuts followed (1921–22) and he was embroiled in a scandal over the sale of honours and the Chanak Crisis in 1922. Andrew Bonar Law won backbench support for the Conservatives to contend the next election alone. Lloyd George resigned; with his party split between his and Asquith’s supporters, his faction won less than 60 seats in the 1922 election. The next year, the pair reunited to oppose Stanley Baldwin’s tariff proposal which he put to the country. The Liberals made gains in 1923 but remained third after the Conservatives and Labour, propping up a Labour minority government; they never regained their status as second party and, when the Labour government fell, went down to just over 40 seats in 1924 under Asquith. Lloyd George led the Liberals from 1926 to 1931, putting forward innovative proposals for public works; this failed to convert into seats in 1929 and from 1931 he was a marginalised and mistrusted figure heading a small rump of breakaway Liberals opposed to the National Government. He declined an offer to serve in Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet in 1940 and was raised to the peerage in 1945, shortly before his death.
Lloyd George has often been ranked highly among modern British prime ministers, but his legacy remains complicated and controversial. Scholars have praised his welfare reforms and his efforts to mobilise and lead Britain to victory during the First World War. But he has also been criticised for adopting a “presidential” style of leadership, for distrusting his own commanders during the war, and for his strategic failures and involvement in various scandals. His legacies over Ireland and the Treaty of Versailles are also controversial. In the post-war period, he arguably alienated many of the workers he had earlier championed, helping to swell Labour’s popular support at the Liberals’ expense (not helped by his conflicts with Asquithian Liberals after 1916).