LLOYD GEORGE AND ME By Rufus Adams
This article is based on a talk given at a meeting of the Lloyd George Society held at Llanwyrtd Wells, Powys in February 2001.
It is copyright and no part of it may be reproduced without the permission of the author or the Society. It was first published by the Society as one of four papers delivered at the weekend school of 9-10 February 2001. Mr Adams is the author of David Lloyd George: the formative years, 1863-1890, published in Bangor in 1990 by the Patrons of the North Wales Music Festival and Workers Educational Association.
Regrettably, I never met Lloyd George. I was only ten, living in Carmarthenshire, when he died in at Llanystumdwy in March 1945. In 1954, I left the Gwendraeth Grammar School to be a student at Swansea University. Gwendraeth was an excellent school with many outstanding teachers. In my seven years at this Welsh grammar school, five studying for 'O' level and two studying English, History and Geography for 'A' level Lloyd George was not mentioned. Our history course finished with Gladstone and the Irish Question and the Congress of Berlin of 1878.
Lloyd George remains the only Welshman to have been Prime Minister of Britain. He ranks with the greatest and yet for many of my generation his achievements are unknown. Indeed my generation left school not knowing anything bout the twentieth century, the tumultuous century in which we were living.
I was fortunate. At Swansea, in 1955-56, that great historian Professor C L Mowat of Chicago University was on a sabbatical year and I studies twentieth century Britain with him. His book "Britain between the Wars: 1918-1940" published nearly fifty years ago, remains a classic. It was he who introduced me to Lloyd George's dynamic career and my interest, if anything, is now greater than ever. I quote Mowat on Lloyd George's downfall in 1922: "And thus ended the reign of the great ones, the giants of the Edwardian era and of the war; and the rule of the pygmies, of the 'second class brains' began, to continue until 1940".
Lloyd George remained in public life admired, distrusted, unused and stonily watched the country sink into a hopeless morass of depression and unemployment, while lesser men frittered away Britain's power in the world. "We have no one of that calibre now", sadly remarked a high official in 1938.
That was not the view of many historians. Lewis Douglas, for example, quoted with delight Clemenceau's assessment of Lloyd George, "He was as empty as an empty egg shell". It was Professor Mowat who ensured that Lloyd George's career and place in history were re-assessed and re-interpreted. A J P Taylor, Professor K O Morgan and John Grigg to name some of the outstanding historians on the twentieth century have all endorsed Professor Mowat's verdict.
The more I read and reflect, the more I understand his life and times, the greater my astonishment. His achievement, often against immense difficulties, can only be explained, I think, by realising that he was a creative political genius. And yet, and yet, how shabbily he has been treated by succeeding generations. I am a Lloyd George devotee; I make no apology for that. I am both intrigued and frustrated by the marked contrast in the way Lloyd George and Winston Churchill are commemorated. The entrance to Westminster Abbey is dominated by the tablet to Winston Churchill. There are Winston Churchill debating societies, Winston Churchill travelling scholarships, a sailing ship for cadets named after him and Churchill College at Cambridge. I am not opposed to these. Great men deserve to be commemorated. My point is to contrast the honours bestowed on Winston Churchill with the little done to honour Lloyd George.
I fear that my generation, the Second World War generation, have not only failed to acknowledge but have even belittled his achievements. One has only to mention his name and the knowing smirk and wink show that uppermost in people's minds are the salacious stories associated with his private life. Possibly that's a comment on our own age. If all the stories about him were true he would not have much time for politics - and Lloyd George's great passion was politics. Lloyd George deserves much better from his fellow countrymen even though we a re told on the highest authority that a prophet hath no honour in his own country.
It was only from 1905, when he became a Cabinet minister, that Wales assumed importance in British politics. Who from Wales, before Lloyd George, made any real impact on modern British politics?
In 1974, whilst attending a Workers Educational Association meeting in London, I visited the twentieth century room in the National Portrait Gallery. Under Augustus John's famous portrait of Lloyd George was the curt phrase: "A Liberal statesman" - at least it was statesman, not politician. But that was all. Under Winston Churchill's portrait was a longish paragraph emphasising his greatness. I realised that the chances of the Director taking action after reading a letter from Rufus Adams of Rhyl, were not high but since John Grigg had published in 1973 his acclaimed first volume on Lloyd George, I wrote to him. Characteristically, as I have learnt over the years, he replied immediately promising to pursue the matter. When I next visited the Gallery there was a paragraph listing Lloyd George's outstanding achievements in peace and war.
In 1981, BBC Wales produced an excellent series on his life and times. It was captivating television and to the notice of many his massive contribution to British, European and world history. Incidentally, it proved to be a financial lifeline to the memorial museum in Llanystumdwy, which was then a private charity. Thousands of people visited the boyhood home, the museum and the grave on the banks of the Dwyfor. I've written to the BBC in Cardiff on a number of occasions suggesting another screening. As yet to no avail. There has been a change in personnel recently and possibly a strong request from this weekend school might see a change of heart.
In 1990, Professor William Mathias, Head of Music at Bangor University and Director of the North Wales International Music Festival, invited me to give the Festival Lecture on David Lloyd George since it was the centenary of his election as an MP. As part of my preparation I wrote to every Welsh Borough and District Council and to the cities of Cardiff and Swansea, asking them how many streets, roads or public buildings were named after him. The answers, over 95% replied, were numbingly negative. I quote from some of the 1990 replies:
"I would advise you that no public buildings, roads or streets in the Borough have been named after Lloyd George. There are at present no plans to use his name for any pending scheme".
"I have to inform you that after extensive research, I am unable to trace any public building, road or street that have been named after Lloyd George".
"There are no streets or public buildings named after him. There is a large portrait of Lloyd George in the Council Chamber, which was presented to the Council by the Mayor in 1926".
There is a most interesting sentence from one officer. "There are no public buildings, roads or streets named after the above luminary".
From one Borough, after reporting that there was no road or building named after him; "We do, however, have an abundance of Bevans, Attlees and Cripps Roads, Ways, Terraces etc.". One reply reads, "No public building or road has been named after Lloyd George but we do have a Churchill Way". And another, "We do not have a building, street or road named after David Lloyd George but we do have roads with a Churchill connection - Churchill Close and Winston Close". From Preseli District, "It is perhaps rather surprising, since the Georges came from Pembrokeshire, that there are no roads, streets or buildings that bear his name".
And what about Aberconwy, Arfon and Dwyfor in which were located the six boroughs were his constituency, although, of course, he transcends geography? There is a very fine statue of him in the Square in Caernarfon, which was unveiled in 1921. There is one too, in the Civic Centre in Cardiff, but the statues of Gareth Edwards and Aneurin Bevan are in far more prominent positions. There's a Churchill Way in our capital city but [in 1990] no road in Cardiff [was] named after Lloyd George .
Ten years later, in 1999, with people conscious that it was the end of a century and indeed of a millennium, I wrote again asking if there had been a change and reminding them of Lloyd George's massive achievements in both peace and war. Briefly the replies fell into five categories:
1. Those who did not even reply e.g. Flintshire, Denbighshire, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire;
2. Those who acknowledged that a letter had been received - and I've heard nothing since! - Newport, Swansea, Caerphilly, Wrexham;
3. Those that showed some degree of interest: Neath, Port Talbot, Merthyr Tydfil, Torfaen;
4. Those that were very interested, gave information and suggested I write to National Assembly: Powys, Anglesey, Conwy and Gwynedd. Gwynedd, of course, finance the excellent museum complex in Llanystumdwy;
5. And thankfully, a very positive response from the Rt. Hon The Lord Mayor of Cardiff.
From Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council:
" I would advise you that the former Boroughs of Neath and Port Talbot recognised the contribution of David Lloyd George during his life by admitting him to the Honorary Freedom of both Boroughs".
From the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil:
" Further to my letter of 3 February 2000, I can confirm that a portrait picture of Lloyd George has been placed in the public area immediately outside the Council Chamber. I hope that you agree that this is a fitting place for such a statesman".
From the County Borough of Conwy:
"Lloyd George Close -
Thank you for your further letter in connection with the above named. Lloyd George Close is a small development of Council properties in Llandudno and has been named and built within the last four years during the life of Conwy County borough Council and to commemorate Lloyd George's role as Member of Parliament for the Conwy constituency".
Russell Goodway, the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, replied on 18 January 2000: "I relate very much to the points that you make regarding the absence of landmark sites in Wales commemorating David Lloyd George. The year 2000 may well be an appropriate time for Cardiff, as the nation's capital to honour one of its most famous political sons. I will bring your letter to the attention of my colleagues with a request that Cardiff gives some consideration to identifying a suitable way in which we can mark the contribution to British political life made by David Lloyd George".
Many of you will be aware that in November 2000, Russell Goodway opened a £61 million project - the Lloyd George Avenue - which links the city centre to Cardiff Bay. I quote:
The scheme was conceived by the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation as a means of providing a high quality environmental scheme to join the city centre of Cardiff to its waterfront. This was to overcome the traditional separation, which existed both physically and in people's minds, created by the main railway line and the feeling that Butetown and the waterfront were "the other side of the tracks". The scheme was never intended as a traffic carrier - Central Link is already there to perform that function. Its conception was of a dual carriageway road set in a wide, 90 metre, reservation, consisting of tree lines and open spaces. This concept has been carried forward into the present scheme, which possesses a dual carriageway with a wide boulevard on its eastern side bounded by two tree lines. At the north end is a square of major proportions with large public spaces including two water features, one of which is ten metres high, and a connection direct into St Mary's Street under the main railway line. Its southern termination is in a substantial circulating area with a water feature and extensive landscaping which has become known as the Flourish".
It is an important and imposing scheme with a most appropriate name. The capital of Wales has recognised Lloyd George's greatness. I wonder if the National Assembly, when in its new home, will implement a scheme that is imaginative, appropriate and worthy of Lloyd George?
Even within Wales there's still a great deal to be done. Examples of ignorance and indifference abound. At the end of 1999, the Western Mail ran a competition for its readers to vote on the Welsh person of the millennium. Who could attempt to answer such a question? If only there had been various categories. What I do recall, with great annoyance, shared, as I know by Mr Jim Russell, was the totally inept write-up on David Lloyd George. It really was a travesty. On the evidence presented by the Western Mail he'd be lucky to make the first one thousand.
Some months ago, HTV broadcast a series entitled, 'Scandals'. I assume it's an easy way to boost viewing figures. I watched the programme on Lloyd George; the emphasis, as the title suggested, was on Lloyd George the philanderer. I recalled my father's observation many years ago: 'You don't get clean by wallowing in dirt'. Would we see a programme, which focussed on Churchill's drinking sessions?
[In the year 2000] there was an article in the New Welsh Review, which argued that Aneurin Bevan was Wales' greatest twentieth century statesman. He was outstanding and his 1948 National Health Service - the foundations of which, as you know, were laid by Lloyd George - is a great monument. But, surely, Lloyd George is in a different league? He is of European and world stature. Can you envisage an English historian arguing that R A Butler, because of his important 1944 Education Act, was greater than Churchill?
For thirty-five years now I have had the pleasure and privilege of lecturing to many groups in Wales and England on Lloyd George, his early years, his courage, his oratory and wit, Lloyd George and Ireland, episodes from a tempestuous life, War Minister, the birth of the welfare state - the topics are endless. The response is always the same. There is astonishment that one person achieved so much. And there is always the same question. "Why", they ask, "haven't we heard about his phenomenal achievements before now"?
Through the continuing work of this Society such a question will, I hope, be asked far less frequently in the future.