A major controversy has erupted over Lloyd George's attitude towards Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler, in which doubt is thrown on LG's liberalism.
In a letter published in the latest issue of the Journal of Liberal History, (Issue 58, Spring 2008) Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government at Oxford University, writes that he was astonished to read in the report of the discussion at the Liberal Democrat History Group meeting on 'The Greatest Liberal' that Lloyd George "was credited with being one of the first to warn of the dangers of Hitler". He added that he hoped no-one believed it.
Bogdanor then quotes various refers comments by LG, first a speech made at Barmouth in September 1933 in which LG argued that if Hitler were to be overthrown, Communism would come to Germany. Then in November 1934, in the Commons LG said: 'Do not let us be in a hurry to condemn Germany. We should be welcoming Germany as our friend'. In 1936, according to Bogdanor, LG sought to justify Hitler's remilitarisation of the Rhineland and after meeting the Fuhrer later in the year, he declared that Hitler was indeed a great man and wrote an article about him in the Daily Express headed 'The George Washington of Germany', in which he said that: 'The idea of a Germany intimidating Europe with a threat that its irresistible army might march across frontiers forms no part in the new vision', and that 'the Germans have definitely made up their minds never to quarrel with us again'. Bogdanor alleges that LG tried to explain away the concentration camps, that he declared Mein Kampf to be Germany's Magna Carta; and even after the declaration of war, in November 1939, he had to be dissuaded from sending Hitler a letter of congratulation following the Fuhrer's fortuitous escape from an assassination attempt!
All this background, states Bogdanor, is well known to historians and seems to disqualify Lloyd George from being regarded as 'The Greatest Liberal' or indeed - according to Bogdanor's assessment - as a liberal of any sort. It is a pity concludes Bogdanor that none of this history was included by Kenneth Morgan in his account of LG's credentials to be the greatest Liberal.
To be fair to Lord Morgan, the claim that LG was one of the first to warn of the dangers of Hitler was not made by him in his presentation about Lloyd George for the Greatest Liberal meeting but it is recorded (Journal 57, Winter 2007-08) as an unattributed comment from the floor in the question and answer session after the formal presentations. Nevertheless the call for LG to be excluded from the ranks of all liberals on account of his attitude to Nazi Germany as set out by Bogdanor is highly controversial.
We should watch the pages of forthcoming Journals of Liberal History for more debate on this issue.
You can find out more about the Journal of Liberal History and the Liberal Democrat History Group at http://www.liberalhistory.org.uk/