10 MARCH 1939, Page 23


The Pre-War Lloyd George U. A. Spender) • 411 Meet the Prisoner (Col. G. D. Turner) ...



Union Now (Wilson Harris) . . • 412 Poems from the Irish (Sean O'Faolain)

416 Munich and the Dictators (Elizabeth Wiskemann) ... 413 Mr. Forster's Alexandria (Bonamy Dobree) ... 416 The Lawless Roads (Evelyn Waugh) ... ... 413 Fiction (Forrest Reid) . .

... 418



MR. WATICIN DAVIES'S book about the pre-War Lloyd George is a little different from the ordinary " fan " books about politicians, of which Mr. Lloyd George had already had his share. It is written by a man who frankly confesses his dis- approval of the post-War Lloyd George, but endeavours to do justice to his pre-War achievements, his work for social reform, his services to Wales, his courageous stand on ques- tions on which he held strong convictions—such as the South African War. The result is a useful and interesting book, which, while repeating much that appears in greater detail in the biographies of the period, adds something that is special to a Welsh writer on the influence of a Welsh upbringing, Welsh Nonconformity and Welsh ideas on a young man of genius.

Many years ago, after a conversation with Mr. Lloyd George, I recorded that while I was speaking to him in English he seemed to be thinking to himself in Welsh, and that I had great difficulty in finding the point of contact be- tween what he was thinking and what I was trying to say. This, I still think, was a large part of the truth and the ex- planation of much of the trouble that followed. His ideas of politics were impressionist, opportunist, dramatic, even histrionic, whereas English Liberals thought in terms of creed and principle. To them it seemed almost impossible at times to make sense of his variegated and seemingly incon- sistent qualities, his impetuosity and his coolness, his violent platform manners, his skill and politeness in private, his merciless attacks on opponents, his confidence in his capacity to dissolve their opposition by persuasive talk, if he could sit round a table with them out of reach of reporters. These habits of mind led him at times into great difficulties, but there is no doubt about the services that he rendered to the Liberal Party between 1906 and 1914. He and Asquith seemed to be exactly the kind of combination the times needed— Asquith keeping the compass true, Lloyd George imparting "drive" and bringing new ideas. The failure of this combi- nation was one of the great disappointments of Party politics.

The central incident of these years was, of course, the Budget of 1909, which made Mr. Lloyd George's political for- tune and wrecked the ancient House of Lords. It is difficult to believe, but the total amount raised in new taxation under this Budget was £4,00o,000—exactly the sum which in the spacious post-War days a Conservative Chancellor gave away at one stroke in order to take a penny off the price of a glass of beer. For this the ancient House of Lords committed suicide and the country was plunged into a controversy fiercer than any that the oldest had witnessed up to that time.

It was a wise Budget and, if the money had to be found, as all parties were agreed that it had to be, if only for the increase of the fleet, a financially orthodox Budget. Had it been presented in the cool and businesslike way in which Asquith explained it to an audience of business men in the Cannon Street Rooms, it would almost certainly have gone through with little more than the usual recrimination. But presented by Mr. Lloyd George from a platform in East London, it took on the appearance of a declaration of war against the rich and prosperous. All the wrath that Mr. Joseph Chamberlain had raised among the rich and powerful by his " unauthorised " speeches in 1885, Mr. Lloyd George raised by his Limehouse speeches in 1909. The "dukes," whom he delighted in baiting, blundered into the fray and retired bruised and beaten by his merciless tongue and withering sarcasm.

An old Cornish clergyman told me that one Sunday evening

Lloyd George 1863-1914. By W. Watkin Davies. (Constable rzs. 6d.)

when his congregation had trooped out of church on the report that a ship was in distress, he followed them to the cliff-top and heard one of the most respected members of his flock say to another, "I'm almost afeared she ain't going ashore after all." This, I am afraid it must be said, was the sentiment of a great many stout Liberals and Radicals when it was rumoured in the autumn of this year that the quarrel was going to be settled. Not to have settled it was the greatest piece of party-political folly in our time. How did it come about? The short answer is Lloyd George. I have understood it better in later days when I have listened to his oratory from the other side and felt its subtle invitation to unwise retorts. At the time one saw only the stampede down the steep place of all the Tory leaders, including Balfour, who was supposed to be the most skilful Parliamentary strategist then living. The "little Welshman" had beaten them all at what was then thought to be supremely their own game.

But within a year another side of his versatile character began to appear. In May, 1910, King Edward died, and Asquith proposed a Conference of party-leaders to see if they could not settle between them some of the questions which, if unsettled, threatened danger and trouble to the new sovereign. Lloyd George's thought went far beyond this. Why not a Coalition in which lions and lambs would lie down together, and Limehouse be forgotten in a patriotic reconcilia- tion? After all, were the things they differed about so very important when they got away from the platform? The lion of Limehouse had now become the dove of peace, and for some weeks in the autumn was exploring all the avenues, as they used to say in those days, in intimate conversations with Balfour and F. E. Smith. The plan miscarried ; as soon as it was whispered, partisans on both sides asked anxiously what in the world the public would think of them if they pre- sented themselves in a Coalition in which, e.g., Liberals were supposed to have bought Home Rule and Welsh Disestablish- ment by accepting Tariff Reform and Compulsory Military Service, or Unionists to have sold Ireland and the Welsh Church for Liberal concessions? Would it not destroy all faith in the seriousness of politics?

Nothing was quite the same after the autumn of 1910. But Mr. Watkin Davies, I think, gives a wrong im- pression of the politics of the subsequent three or four years. In any summarised history of these years the Irish and House of Lords questions may seem to have swamped everything else. But it was actually a period of intense Liberal and Radical activity, the period of the initia- tion of Sickness and Unemployment Insurance, of preparation for a new campaign on Land Reform and other social ques- tions which would have gone forward if the War had not followed. Lloyd George was indefatigable in all these matters, and, having sat with him on the Committee which was pre- paring the Land campaign, I know how painstaking and thorough he could be in any business to which he had seriously set his hand. Incidentally, it is a mistake to suppose that he had any serious difficulty with his colleagues at this time. Grey, whose supposed indolence and incapacity he seems only to have discovered in later years, was among his warmest supporters. It was about this time that his friend Lord Riddell reported him as having said that Grey was the only man except Asquith under whom he would be content to serve.

To forget the post-War Lloyd George in writing about the pre-War Lloyd George is not easy, for, as Oliver Wendell Holmes used to say, there are some things which blot back- wards in the book of life. It is worth trying, however and this is an honest attempt to do justice.