Sunday, March 22, 2009

Left Wing PM Poll Closes

I asked who you thought the best left-wing Prime Minister of the last 100 year is and this poll has now closed.

The winner is David Lloyd George. I am a little surprised given some of his background, but he is remembered as being the PM that introduced state pensions, and before he was PM was one of the chief influences on companies who were largely ignoring trade union demands, in getting elected union representatives and their concerns heard.

Here is the Poll results:

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman - 6% (2)
H.H. Asquith - 0% (0)
David Lloyd George - 32% (10)
Ramsay MacDonald - 16% (5)
Clement Attlee - 16% (5)
Harold Wilson - 6% (2)
James Callaghan - 0% (0)
Tony Blair - 22% (7)

As Lloyd George is your choice, here is a (hopefully balanced) summary of his political life and activities. David Lloyd George succeeded H. H. Asquith as PM in 1916 after securing Conservative and Media support in pressuring Asquith to resign as PM in the middle of World War 1. He is also the only Welsh Prime Minister of the UK ever, and the only PM who did not have English as his first language.

He was Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922. I found out today that Asquith lived in Sutton Courtney which was then Berkshire but is now Oxfordshire and would have lived just a few minutes walk from my nan when she was a child.

Lloyd George and Asquith we very different Liberals and represented different sections of the Liberal Party and clashed often. Asquith as PM still was keen to seek Irish Home Rule, Lloyd George had in caused many problems through his fierce opposition to the second Boer war, he spoke on Welsh temperance reform, Welsh home rule, Welsh Education and Schools and especially on the disestablishment and dis-endowment of the Church of England in Wales. Lloyd George and three other Welsh Liberals tied their arguments to the Irish Home Rule bids which were much more well supported they even exited the party (refusing the Whip) for 6 weeks to force Parliament to recognise Welsh Independence issues. When they returned Lloyd George formed Cymru Fydd ("Wales Will Be") which was a popular political movement, however became unpopular in Wales when dilution for support of the Liberal Party cost them the 1895 election.

During the arms race between Britain and Germany in the build up to WW1, Lloyd George proposed from his position as Chancellor that armament spending be reduced, this policy was adopted by Asquith as PM and the Liberals but was deeply unpopular with the Admiralty, The Conservatives and the public. This action was so unpopular that it was eventually reversed, and where Lloyd Georges proposal of cutting spending had been to reduce the planned six dreadnoughts to four, eventually the number became eight, such was the fierceness of the debate that proposed increases were the result.

Asquith had already introduced the State Pension when he was Chancellor to Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, but Lloyd George expanded spending on this and secured spending to support the sick and the elderly. This was put up as the "Peoples Budget" and was a deeply unpopular idea as far as the House of Lords were concerned and they took the unusual steps of rejecting it. The Lords did not normally interfere with financial bills in this way. This brought about a Constitutional Crisis, and Asquith was forced to call a General Election. The election resulted in a hung parliament with the Liberals winning just two seats more than the Conservatives. Asquith formed a minority government with the Irish Nationalists.

The new government passed the "Peoples Budget" as they had an electoral mandate to do so.

In 1916 Liberals, Conservatives and the Public were growing unhappy at Asquith's direction of the War. He was perceived as having a lack of vigour and bringing out dated thinking. As such, Andrew Bonar Law helped Lloyd George succeed to the recently vacated position of Secretary of State for War. Asquith gave Lloyd George the position, but with a greatly reduced portfolio which took no time to frustrate Lloyd George.

Lloyd George rallied for a committee to be set up to manage the war for which he would be part of, Asquith agreed providing the committee reported to him and that he would be able to attend at his discretion. Lloyd George, through Lord Northcliffe (owner of the Times and the Daily Mail) reported this as Asquith being sidelined. Asquith withdrew his support for the committee, and David Lloyd George resigned, prompting Conservatives to withdraw their support for Asquith who himself was forced to resign as PM (but not as leader of the Liberal Party).

Bonar Law refused to form a government as Asquith refused to serve under anybody else, so it fell to David Lloyd George who formed a coalition government , though leading Liberals refused to serve under David Lloyd George, or anybody other than Asquith. As Prime Minister he saw to an expansion of spending at home that saw more and more men escape wartime service and work on public works projects, this was attributed to a weakened forces presence in the War.

In 1917 he ordered forces that would were needed in France to Italy and Palestine, this prompted the resignations of service chiefs Admiral Jellicoe and General Robertson. The offensive saw British troops attack the Ottoman Empire in Palestine and the conquest of that land. Arthur Balfour in the now famous Balfour Declaration of 1917 stated in a letter to Baron Rothschild:

Dear Lord Rothschild,

I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet:

"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

Yours sincerely
Arthur James Balfour


At the same time as diverting "British" forces away from the front line to manufacturing, and forays in Palestine and Italy, he extended conscription to Ireland, this was exceptionally unpopular and led to the Home Rule Party to be completely wiped out in the subsequent 1918 election being replaced by Sinn Fein who immediately declared Independence. The IRA (known today as the Old IRA to distinguish from later formations of the IRA) began a guerrilla war against the British Government in Ireland.

Home rule had been sought in 1912 and the Parliament Act of 1911 had been passed to not allow the Lords to reject anything that had been sought in an election campaign, though it could delay it by two years. in 1912 the Third Home Rule act was passed, and was expected to be implemented in 1914. This Independence was interrupted by the outbreak of WWI but was to be granted at the end of the war. So the conscription imposed upon Ireland was seen as a way of conscription Irish men onto the front-line. Irish volunteers were returning with stories of horrible atrocities and there was little public opinion in favour to Irish citizens serving in the British war.

The 1918 elections gave Irish Republicanism a boost, which had been crushed in the intervening war years. Sinn Fein refused to sit in the UK Parliament and declared to set up an Irish Parliament (the First Dail) and in 1919 at its first meeting they reaffirmed their previous claims to Independence, issued a letter to free nations of the world and immediately redesignated Irish volunteers into the Irish Republican Army. Between 1919 and 1921 they waged war against the British Administration in Ireland. On the same day in 1919 in Co. Tipperary Sean Treacy and Dan Breen killed two Royal Irish Constabulary Officers who were escorting explosives. This act was deliberately intended by the pair to bring about a War of Independence (which it did).

At the end of WWI it was David Lloyd Georges' express wish that Germany pay for the costs incurred for the prosecution of the entire war, including pensions. He summarised his 1918 election as a six point programme.

1. The trial of Kaiser Wilhelm II
2. Punishment of those guilty atrocities
3. Fullest indemnity from Germany
4. Britain for the British, socially and industrially
5. Rehabilitation of the broken war
6. A happier county for all

He stood as head of the "National Liberal" coalition and won a landslide victory though The Conservative controlled more seats within this coalition. Asquith's Liberals won just 33 seats.

At the Versailles Peace Conference David Lloyd George clashed with French Premier Georges Clemenceau and American President Woodrow Wilson. When asked how he did at the conference he replied "Not bad, considering I was seated between Jesus Christ and Napoleon". John Maynard Keynes was critical of Lloyd George saying in his book The Economic Consequences of Peace that Lloyd George was a "half-human visitor to our age from the hag-ridden magic and enchanted woods of Celtic antiquity."

The Conservative influences and with the Anglo-Irish war being fought put great strains on his leadership. In 1922 the Conservative demonstrated that David Lloyd George had been profiting from the sale of peerages and he fell from power.

David Lloyd George is remembered fondly for his time as PM, but there were a number of things that he is associated with that were less than honourable. As mentioned the Conservative proved that he had abused his position as Prime Minister for financial gain for himself and for the Liberal party.

In 1925 the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act was passed, to make illegal the sale of peerages and honours, modelled on the abuses that David Lloyd George had participated in. The only person who has ever been successfully prosecuted under this act is Maundy Gregory who was Lloyd George's "Honours Broker."

The act was the basis of the cash for peerages investigation in 2006/07 when Police officially interviewed sitting Prime Minister Tony Blair over allegations that Loaned to the Labour Party had been made quid pro quo for peerages and honours.

Later in life, and apologies in advance for the language but this is a direct quotation, but David Lloyd George is quoted by Frances Stevenson (secretary and second wife) in her diary as saying:

"Debate last night in the House on Air—strong demonstrations in favour of increased no. of fighting planes. D. [David Lloyd George] says it could have been avoided but for Simon's [Sir John Simon's] mismanagement. At Geneva other countries would have agreed not to use aeroplanes for bombing purposes, but we insisted on reserving the right, as D. puts it, to bomb niggers! Whereupon the whole thing fell through, & we add 5 millions to our air armaments expenditure."

Apparently he, and others in Government felt it was important that the British Government retain the right to bomb British colonies as and when they deemed it necessary. [From Conquest to Collapse: European Empires from 1815 to 1960, Pantheon Books, New York, 1982. Page 200]

Lloyd George in 1923 resolved (Politically at least) his differences with Asquith, and the Liberal Party was re-united for the 1924 election which they lost. In six years David Lloyd George had gone from being the man the Conservatives had described as "A dictator for life, if he wishes," to being an known crook.

In 1924 the Socialist Labour Party overtook the reformed Liberal Party to become the second biggest Party in Parliament after the Conservatives. The proud party that had been formed to fight the corn laws and champion peoples rights and small government were now a shadow of their former selves, the Socialist were now speaking for the poor and the working classes.

In 1926 he finally succeeded Asquith as leader of the Liberal party leader, but support continued to diminish. He needed to pay to support candidates from his own funds at the 1929 election where they won just 60 seats. In 1945 and in ill-health with it looking like he would lose his constituency he was awarded a peerage, but he never had chance to attend the Lords as a Peer as he died a few months later in his home in Wales.

Hopefully I will be able to give a bit of a round up on whomever wins the new poll on the Best Conservative PM in a few weeks time. All the above was sourced via some books at home and via Wikipedia.


Aye We Can ! said...

Interesting poll.

Not much of a choice - could you not have added Barack!

I'd though have given it to Harold Wilson. Look at all that equal rights leggislation he got through. The start of a really "liberal" britain. And he tried devoltion too - decades ahead of its time

But above all he kept us out of Vietnam. I know at the time left wing folk criticsied him for him not criticising the US - but we were mortgaed up to the hilt with them. But the key point is he did not send British troops, despite heavy heavy pressure from a Democrat US President.

Looking back now, with Blair's and Brown's craven support for the war in Iraq - Harold was a winner in my eyes , big time

But Lloyd George - the man who took on General Haig and the royalist cabal around him and ultimately, despite Winston's prompting, refused to send the tanks into Ireland, not a bad winner.

Croydonian said...

Judging them on their own terms, I would say it was a toss up between L-G and Attlee, on the basis that they achieved the most of what they set out to achieve.