Friday, 5 September 2014

David and Winston

David and Winston – How a Friendship changed History. Robert Lloyd George. John Murray, publishers. 2005, pp 303

This review was written on June 19th 2012

I borrowed this book from the RDS library. I borrowed it for two reasons. I have been interested in English history, as is evident from the titles in my list of book reviews. Secondly, I noted on perusing the biographical section of the RDS library that this book was published in 2005 and had been borrowed on nine occasions since it had been acquired by the library. This was a borrowing rate which was well above the average for the library. With so many books in the biography section the frequency of borrowing is an important criterion in choosing titles to read.

There was certainly an early, unusual and very lasting relationship between Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, considering their age differences and their many political and personality contrasts. David Lloyd George was born in 1861 and Winston Spencer Churchill in 1875. Lloyd George was born in Wales and in modest circumstances while Winston was born into one of the wealthiest and most aristocratic families of the land. While Winston was part of the Liberal party and a cabinet member for many years under the leadership of Asquith and later Lloyd George, he was by nature more of a conservative and had started his political career and ended it as a member of the Tory party.

Lloyd George with his underprivileged background was consistently devoted during his political life to the wider social affairs and welfare of the wider population. He also strove for land reform. As Chancellor of the Exchequer under Asquith, he was the architect of the great reforms of 1911, the People's Budget, with the introduction of old age pensions and support for the unemployed. The author states that Lloyd George’s radical proposals were inspired by the policies of Bismarck in Germany. Churchill had less regard for social reform although he supported Lloyd George in driving the People’s Budget and the author attributes important penal reform to the influence of Churchill. Lloyd George was in favour of Home Rule for Ireland from the early days of his career.

Churchill was an early and outspoken exponent of rearmament and was most concerned about the German menace. His campaign demanding the building of new battleships as early as 1911 was a constant thorn in the sides of Lloyd George and his Prime Minister, Asquith, and was perceived by them as a serious threat to the exchequer. Churchill was spurred more than his colleagues on all sides of the political world by military and empire aspirations. Unlike Lloyd George he was to support Britain’s entry into the first Great War. Churchill’s insistence on the building of new battleships was the greatest source of division between the two leaders from 1911 but nevertheless did not alter their warm and intimate friendship.

Lloyd George was consistent during his entire political life in his support of the common man. He was more reserved and certainly in terms of characters more private and less demonstrative than Churchill. Churchill was famously impulsive, bellicose, ambitious and self-centred. He was often accused of lacking judgement but his courage, energy, enthusiasm and buoyancy was evident during his entire political life and provided a balance to his many failures of judgement.  His military and political mistakes were well known and the source of much distrust but his early support of rearmament before the two great wars and his leadership and opposition to the Germans played a fundamental part in winning both wars.

The friendship of the two men survived many differences of opinion and of policy but it was respect by the younger for the older and admiration for the younger by the older that cemented their lifetime affection and trust. They shared many differences of opinion and could be critical of one another openly as well as privately. That the older man had a profound admiration for the gifts of the younger is evident in the five paragraphs in pages 150 and 151 of the book where the author quotes from Lloyd George’s War Memoirs written in 1933.  On page 211 Churchill gives a frank and moving account of their friendship during Lloyd George’s 73rd birthday.

Both leaders played prominent parts in the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations in the autumn of 1922, Lloyd George as Prime Minister and Churchill as a member of the Cabinet. It was clear that Churchill in particular was attracted to Michael Collins. I suspect that both men shared some things in common, including the same wealth of energy and affability.  

Both British leaders believed in curbing the power of the House of Lords and were with Bonar Law, the conservative leader in 1921, the greatest influence among the British in favour of granting Ireland dominion status subject to recognising the Crown and excluding the six Northern counties. From his earliest political days Lloyd George was in favour of Home Rule for Ireland. 

Lloyd George was in favour of the Jewish settlement in Palestine and the question of a Jewish settlement as a separate state gets some mention in the book. Earlier in his life he was generally unpopular as a young politician because of his strong opposition to the Boer War.  I was also interested to read that Lloyd George played a leading part in forcing Chamberlain to resign as prime minister in 1940 and having Churchill appointed to replace him.

It is of interest to those of us who are familiar with the parliamentary system in Ireland, where loyalty to party is so stringent and traditional, that leaders such as Churchill could be less attached to the same party and the same policies and that policies in the same party need not always attract the loyalty and support of all its members. Reading recently the life of Disraeli brought out the same sense of instability among members of parliament and indeed the diverse policies which can be found among members sitting on the same side of the House.

I would strongly support a less rigid whip system in our own parliament. This would lead to greater influence by the Dáil and its members and to the reduced power of the Cabinet and the Executive. At present the balance of power in parliament is too much in favour of the Executive.

Lloyd George's funeral 1945
Lloyd George died in 1945 at the age of 82 as the World War was drawing to its close.  His eulogy was delivered by Churchill to the Houses of Parliament the following day and, like Lloyd George’s earlier tribute to Churchill, referred to above, the eulogy by his lifelong political friend was equally revealing of the warmth and fastness of their friendship.

Churchill's funeral 1965
The final chapter includes short biographical notes on 33 of the chief characters who appear in the full text. It is a useful device for the more casual reader as are the final six pages providing the relevant chronology.

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