Regrettably the Society does not hold a complete archive of all the talks given at the weekend schools over the years. Many were previously published in booklet form but not all of these are still in circulation. As and when these missing presentations come to light, we will place them on the website. If anyone holds copies of any talks not yet placed on the site, we would be delighted to receive the text so we can share it with visitors to the website.
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This tribute to the late Sir Maldwyn Thomas, a former Liberal parliamentary candidate, President of the Welsh Liberal Party and the first President of the Lloyd George Society, is the text of a talk given at a meeting of the Lloyd George Society held in February 2003.
Mr President, Annwyl Gyfeillon. Thank you for inviting me to give this address in memory and in appreciation of our good friend Maldwyn.
Paying tribute to a great person is an honour. Paying tribute to a good friend is a heavy burden.
Ever since Bill Barritt invited me to deliver this address, I have been trying to place Maldwyn; place him that is in the sense of where he left his mark on our lives. The fact is that he made a number of marks, all of them enduring.
There were three interwoven aspects to his life, the law, politics, and that in which he made a pre-eminent contribution namely business. But overlaying these three strands were his traditional Welsh values (including the influence of the chapel), which, probably, are the key to understanding his achievements and his personality. I would like to begin, therefore, if I may, with his background and the professional side of his life. Then I shall say something about the politics and I shall conclude with aspects of his personal life.
Maldwyn was brought up in South Wales in a close happy Welsh non-conformist Liberal family. He attended the Grammar School at Porth in the Rhondda but because of family circumstances he did not go to University. He did, however, dedicate himself to learning and to acquiring professional qualifications through home study.
He qualified as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and in 1953 he was called to the bar by Grays Inn. He did not practise as a barrister but it was with these qualifications that he joined the Atomic Energy authority which was his first taste of working for a large corporation.
Later as one legal qualification was not enough for him, he qualified as a solicitor and joined a small private practice in North Wales in which he practised until 1964 when his world changed. The changes, which were to happen to his life from 1964 onwards, were spectacular to say the least.
In 1964 he joined Rank Xerox as a legal adviser and company secretary just as that Company was taking off. He was therefore, in at the beginning of the enormous development and progression of that great Company. In a record breaking eight years Maldwyn rose from company secretary to director to managing director, chairman and chief executive - to the very top in eight years.
In measuring this achievement, you must realise that Rank Xerox was an amalgam of British and American influence. The British side was Rank and Xerox was the American side. Rank held 51% of the vote and Xerox 49%. You will realise from that fact that to have impressed the Americans our Maldwyn must have had something quite special.
And it is in this part of the narrative that we begin to see the real Maldwyn.
Before I identify what I believe to be those special qualities, which marked him out, I would like to tell you a story. It is one in which Maldwyn, in a period of minutes, moved from the background in Rank Xerox to the very front.
The story takes place when Maldwyn was the company secretary of Rank Xerox. The Company was troubled by the different treatment for revenue purposes of "photographic" documents and "printed" documents - a difference which had significant consequences as to the Company's liabilities for tax in the U.K. and the E.U. Maldwyn asked Emlyn Hooson who was then in the House of Commons, if he could arrange a meeting between representatives of the Company and the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Emlyn phoned Neil McDermott QC who was then the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (he later became Solicitor General). McDermott said he would meet the Company provided Emlyn himself was present. At the meeting the Chief Executive of the Company spoke on its behalf. It is not necessary that I should tell you his name but it is necessary for a proper understanding of the story that you should know that he was arrogant and pompous. Seated behind him were Emlyn Hooson, Maldwyn and two directors of Xerox - two Americans who had come especially for the meeting. These two American directors, as it happened, were the sons of non-conformist ministers! The Chief Executive (who was also the Chairman) appeared not to have mastered his brief and he spoke down at Neil Mcdermott. In no time at all, Mcdermott, with his incisive questioning, had destroyed the Chief Executive's arguments and concluded the discussion with the words "That's that then". The meeting was about to break up when Maldwyn, in his very modest manner, spoke up:
"I wonder, Financial secretary, if I might say a few words which might be of assistance to you" You can both see and hear Maldwyn in that line, can't you? Within a few minutes, Maldwyn had turned Neil McDermott comprehensively and McDermott was clearly impressed.
The two Americans said to Emlyn as they left the meeting, "Gee, wasn't our Mal great!"
By the end of the following week, Rank Xerox had a new managing director - Maldwyn - and the Chief Executive became Chairman. Shortly afterwards, Mal was made Chairman as well as managing director. He later acquired the responsibilities of the Chief Executive, as well. The whole operation followed the decision of the American directors to obtain dominant voting rights following that meeting.
What then were Maldwyn's qualities? I would not place him amongst the World's best planners. As he himself once said "whilst I can honestly say I have never had a plan in my career, the one thing I tried hardest to organise - to be a practising lawyer - did not work."
We are the sum of our attributes. Maldwyn's attributes were sound judgement, wisdom, shrewdness and a highly intelligent and incisive mind but what made him so convincing and appealing was his modesty and humility. And we should not leave out of account his considerable sense of humour.
Maldwyn was someone to whom funny things, as well as great things, happened. I will tell this next story of a funny coincidence using his own words.
"On the day that I joined the army in Port Talbot in 1939, another young man with exactly the same names was joining the same outfit - the 38th Company of the 53rd Welsh Division, RASC. From the first day his number and mine were mixed, so when I had to go into hospital his mother came to see me. And when I was discharged, it was to go back to my trade as a boilermaker."
My other story is of our visit to Blackpool. Maldwyn and I decided to go to the Party Conference in Blackpool. It was a late decision and, consequently, none of the hotels, which Maldwyn would have regarded as fitting his station in life, were available. So we had to rely on the conference manager's office to find us somewhere to stay.
We arrived in style in Maldwyn's Bentley but I can tell you that that was the end of the style. It was a typical Blackpool B &B - 'no star' run by a typical Blackpool landlady. The contrast between her and Maldwyn could not have been greater. The bedroom consisted of one single bed, one camp bed and one wardrobe without a door.
Despite all his humility you can guess who had the camp bed.
The toilet was outside the bedroom and you could not open the bedroom door without moving the camp bed. At 4 a.m. - Maldwyn woke me up. It was dark.
" Yes Maldwyn?"
"I want to go to the bathroom"
"Why are you telling me Maldwyn?"
I can't open the door unless you move the camp bed"
So I got out of bed and stood there holding the bed in front of me.
Maldwyn re-entered the room by opening the door with such force as to push the camp bed and me into the wardrobe. The next thing I heard was Maldwyn looking round the room and saying "Winston - where are you?" - Happy days.
Politics is an interest with which he was born. He was born into a Liberal family, as I said earlier. His mother was very active in the Liberal Party and during this period whilst he was living in Porthcawl but working in Cardiff and later Swansea he was a Liberal councillor in Porthcawl and a deacon and the secretary of the Tabernacle chapel in Porthcawl. By this time, he had developed his secretarial skills and had developed his political interests to the extent of wishing to be an M.P. He became a member of the executive of the Welsh Liberal Party and then in 1950 he contested the Aberavon seat.
When he was appointed to Rank Xerox in 1964 he was already prospective candidate for the Liberal Party in West Flint. Nursing and cultivating that constituency from London to which he would be moving in his Rank Xerox role would not have been possible.
Those circumstances gave birth to a new and lasting friendship between Maldwyn and the then young Martin Thomas who agreed to take over the seat from Maldwyn. That marked the end of Maldwyn's active involvement in Liberal Politics until he returned from his retirement in Bermuda in 1984.
In the late forties - early fifties Emlyn Hooson, Glyn Tegai Hughes, Maldwyn and his sister Mair had set up the first of the series of Welsh Liberal Weekend Schools at Pantyfedwen. On his return from Bermuda, Maldwyn brought together a group of young Welsh Liberals to resuscitate the Weekend Schools. You will recognise their names - John Roberts, Helen Hughes, Cathy Lloyd, Judith Trefor Thomas, Judy Lewis and Christopher Davies. They would meet regularly at Maldwyn's very stylish London home. Christopher Davies tells a story which, to me, sums up Maldwyn. In the lounge of his London home he had a Bechstein grand piano, a sign of success and wealth, but on its music stand was "Y Detholiad" - the Welsh Hymn Book: grandness and roots side by side.
Those Liberal Weekend Schools became the Lloyd George Society of which Maldwyn was the first President.
In 1984 he was knighted for his considerable work and support for the Liberal Party in Wales and generally. That was a key date for us but the key date for him was 1975 when he married his lovely, adorable Maureen - who cannot be with us today but I am sure that the society is thinking of her at this moment.
As well as becoming President of the Welsh Liberal Party and President of the Week end Schools, Maldwyn made a much wider contribution. He became President of the London Welsh Association, a trustee of London's Welsh School and chairman of the Glamorgan Society. He was also a devoted member of Tabernacle Chapel at King's Cross. These were aspects of his life in London to which he took his commitment to Wales and its values.
They say we send to London our teachers to educate it, our preachers to save it, our politicians to govern it, and the dairymen of Cardigan to milk it. I believe Maldwyn went there to civilise it.
In conclusion then this is my pen picture of this mild and gentle giant. He was a leader who served as well as he led. He did not permit his fame, fortune or status to turn his head. He acknowledged his luck in life. Less than a year before he died, he said, " I have had a magnificent life".
He was committed to his principles and devoted to his Maureen and his sister Mair. He enjoyed his faith and his chapel. In his tribute to him, the Reverend Gareth Roberts said "Yr oedd yr holl aelodau yn meddwl y byd ohono". ("The whole congregation thought the World of him").
I cannot think of a better testimonial with which to depart this life.
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.
This article is based on a talk given at a meeting of the Lloyd George Society held in February 2003.
It is copyright and no part of it may be reproduced without the permission of the author or the Society. Mr Unwin updated his analysis of Anglo-American relations at the Lloyd George Society meeting held in February 2007, so the reader is asked to remember that these views were current just before the onset of the Iraq War.
For as long as I can remember, the British have been asking themselves where they belong. In the 1940s we clung to wartime glories as one of the 'Big Three' and in the fifties turned to the ambition of leading a global Commonwealth. By the 1960s we were talking about the rights and wrongs of a British deterrent and a continuing presence 'East of Suez'. In the seventies we got our teeth into European Community membership, and an existential debate about Britain and Europe has been going on ever since.
Throughout these decades, we boasted of a 'special relationship' with our friendly superpower. But increasingly - and fervently since 11 September 2001 - we have started asking ourselves more hard-headed questions about the Americans. If in the 20th Century they did more good than harm, are they now going to do more harm than good? So in this new century we have to answer George Bush's question: are we with them or against them?
Bush posed that question in the context of the campaign against terrorism, but I do not want to get involved in the rights and wrongs of that today. Still less do I want to enter into the arguments about war with Iraq. These are vital and topical questions, but we would lose ourselves in their day-to-day complexities. Similarly I want to keep away from detailed discussion of the rights and wrongs of the current American administration. My topic today is not terrorism, or Iraq, or George Bush. It is how we in Britain, and other countries similarly placed, should react to the fact of American pre-eminence. Do we want to be in the American empire or outside it? Do we want to help it order the world or go our own, separate way, either alone or in partnership with other nations? Do we support the primacy of the United States or the United Nations; Europe or North America? And in deciding all this do we see the global power of the United States as predominantly a good influence or a bad?
On the plus side of the argument, the United States stands for many good causes, freedom, human rights, open markets among them. The Americans have built the most dynamic and creative society on God's earth and spread its influence worldwide. America is the indispensable nation, without which many necessary things can never get done. It is powerful, in some lights all-powerful. It can do many things alone, but still, more often than not, feels more comfortable doing them with others. It wants us as an ally.
On the other side of the argument, the United States is too powerful, and uses its power selectively, irresponsibly and selfishly. It is in large part to blame for the animosity, even hatred, it arouses. It is undermining the global society we have built so laboriously since the end of the Second World War, and is putting in its place an arbitrary imperium, shaped essentially, by Washington's orders. We are no more than its stooges.
You can make a strong case for either of those views of the United States' role in the world. You can make a stronger one for an uneasy amalgam of the two. We have to live with the realities that underlie both views. In the words of Jean Baudrillard: 'America is powerful and original; America is violent and abominable. We should not seek to deny either of these aspects, nor reconcile them.'
Or one can put the matter more simply, in the words my mother used too often about my father. America is 'impossible to live with but impossible to live without.' Yet Britain can still choose how closely it wants to associate itself with that 'powerful, original, violent and abominable' superpower.
I have spent the last two years trying to work out where I stand on that question. In the end, I come down with many a hesitation in favour of distancing ourselves from the United States. My reasoning goes like this; you can pull it to pieces afterwards.
First, the nature of American society: it exhibits enormous qualities and terrible flaws. It is more attractive to individual Britons than any other country on earth. In many respects British society is steadily growing more like American. But in the end I cannot believe that Britain would be a happier place it if were drawn still more completely into America's orbit.
Second, as Lord Acton said, 'Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. The United States is closer to absolute power than Britain was at its heights in the 19th Century. I do not think we can entrust the world to the absolute will of a single superpower.
Third, there is the lesson of British history. In their wisdom, British statesmen fought from the 16th Century to the 20th to prevent Europe falling under the control of a single hostile or potentially hostile power. For Europe then read the world today, for Philip II, Louis X1V, Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin read a potentially hostile president in Washington. The American constitution is full of domestic checks and balances, thank God. The United States needs external checks and balances too.
Fourth, let us consider British interests. Ever since Churchill's time, we have seen our interests, as being best served by policies well nigh identical with Washington's. That view served us pretty well throughout the cold war, though it may have cost us entry at the right time into the European Community and a central role within it even to this day. Tony Blair seems as committed to that view as Winston Churchill ever was. Yet the divergence between American interests and British interests, American global views and British ones, is steadily widening. Look at policies towards the environment, human rights, global order, nuclear proliferation, and the world economy, the United Nations itself. British statesmen and diplomats are walking a tightrope of credibility when they so assiduously seek to minimise the differences between Whitehall and Washington. One day they will fall off.
Fifth, there is Britain's size. There is always a lot of whimsy and self-deception about the 'special relationship'. Even a caring and sharing United States tended to overwhelm a British partner in the despatch of day-to-day business. An assertive solipsistic United States convinced of its own exceptionalism will do so unthinkingly and uncaringly. And unchallenged absolute power will make America, like any of its predecessors as hegemonic powers, that much the more unthinking and uncaring about the concerns of others.
Lastly, what about British attitudes? There is about the British almost as much instinctive deference to Washington as there used to be to the House of Windsor. Such deference keeps the British in psychological leading strings. If we want to fulfil ourselves as adults we need to free ourselves from both those kinds of deference.
If you buy the argument so far, what ways do we have of distancing ourselves from American hegemony? They sound pretty mechanistic, but they are real for all that. Each depends on finding new attitudes and building up relationships to put into the balance beside our relationship with Washington.
The first point appeals to good old British pragmatism. It is that we must judge every American proposal open-mindedly on its merits. We will find ourselves in wholehearted agreement with some, perhaps most, American policies; and equally repelled by others. On each issue we should in private tell the Americans exactly where we stand. What we say in public will on some issues be constrained by other considerations. But our underlying aim should be to break, over time, with self-censorship, and with the presumption that we will almost always see the world through American eyes. In short we should put away some of the traditional assumptions of British foreign policy and be rather more like the French instead.
In so distancing ourselves from American assumptions we will find ourselves looking to that so-often so-unsatisfactory institution, the United Nations. With all its shortcomings, it represents the principles of universality, multilateralism and international equality, to be put into the balance against the idea of American exceptionalism, the practice of American unilateralism, and the fact of American power. The United Nations offers legitimacy. A central problem is to combine that legitimacy with operational effectiveness. A secondary problem will be to prevent the United States either turning away in disgust from an organisation it cannot control, or conversely seeking to bully it into acquiescence. But for British policy-makers the United Nations is as indispensable as the United States, and a necessary balance to it.
Next, the old adversaries - by almost every measure, Russia and China are vastly less attractive societies than the United States. Yet they exist, and they matter; and if you accept the argument so far you will see that they have interests in common with us in building a counter-balance to a triumphalist United States. Some time in the next 50 years China will emerge as an effective rival superpower. In the same period Russia will revive and re-emerge as a considerable world power. We should not let historical antipathies and present-day distaste prevent our co-operating with the Russians and the Chinese where the merits of a case require it.
Four years ago a senior British diplomat quietly muttered to me - an old colleague now out to grass - that in private we often had more difficulty nowadays in coping with Washington than with Moscow. To some one like me, who spent a whole official lifetime convinced that the KGB man was always the villain hiding being the arras, it was a revealing admission. And yet it had a long pedigree. 'We have no eternal allies', said Lord Palmerston, 'and no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.'
When we co-operate with our fellow-Europeans, by contrast, we will have less need to hold our noses. Our western European neighbours run societies that to some of us - certainly to me - seem more congenial than the United States. They are about our weight, not immeasurably more powerful than we are. As for influence, the European Union is already by some measures the equal of the United States. Its population is greater, its GNP as great, its share of world trade greater than that of the United States. Its official development assistance to the developing world is infinitely greater, its influence in trade and economic fora comparable with that of the Americans. Diplomatically and politically it will remain a pygmy by comparison with the United States until its members can bring themselves to act as one, either by effective co-operation or by further integration. Militarily it will never approach America's punching power, but it has the capacity, if it can generate the will, to play a more effective peacekeeping, nation-building role than the United States.
Its eastward enlargement, coming next year, will increase its potential but simultaneously increase the difficulty of bringing that potential to bear. Enlargement is desirable, and must be right, but how you make a union of 25 European states operationally effective is a problem to defeat the Wisdom of Solomon. Maybe the European constitutional convention will come up with suggestions to carry us forward. More cogently, if over the next decade we Europeans recognise the need to create a balanced transatlantic relationship in which Europe can answer America back we will find our minds concentrated wonderfully on finding ways to do so effectively.
Another grouping, which may come into its own, is the Commonwealth. It has always represented a remarkable gathering of the peoples of the earth. The problem is mobilising its strengths. I laboured for four years in the Commonwealth vineyard looking for ways to make it operationally more effective. In the end I was left with just two concepts on which to build. First, the Commonwealth as a benchmark - benchmark of democracy, governmental accountability, human rights, and economic transparency. Second, the Commonwealth as an organising instrument - a less formal, less hide-bound United Nations. Now I begin to see a third role for it, as a gathering of all the English-speaking nations except the United States, reaching into almost every corner of the globe, a force standing out against the threatened clash of civilisations.
None of these groupings can or should set itself on collision course with the United States. They cannot and should not challenge the Americans' hard power. But the members of each of them have their own views of the world and a right to be heard. Each of them has its share of that mysterious substance, 'soft power', a substance often more useful than cruise missiles and armoured divisions. It is made up of the legitimacy represented by sovereign states and hundreds of millions of people for whom they speak. It is made up too of partnerships, agreements, influence, and assistance to the less fortunate. It operates through diplomacy, personal, educational and cultural links, investment and development, human understanding. These are the means through which the relatively weak can assert themselves against the militarily strong, and help to build a truly multilateral world.
But before Britain or any other of America's allies, partners or friends can embark with conviction on the courses I have outlined we will have to stop accepting the United States on the American's own valuation. They believe that America is something different from the rest of the world community. 'A shining city on a hill' said one American president. 'A myriad points of light' said another. Since 11 September 2001 American exceptionalism has had a field day. Sometimes the chant 'United States' and the outrageous demand that Americans should be excluded from the remit of the International Criminal Court seem to have replaced rational political discourse in America. We need to challenge the American belief that the United States is a great global exception, with unique privileges of its own within global society. We have to convince the Americans and ourselves that they are just like other human beings, good and bad, wise and foolish, generous and selfish, altruistic and narcissistic. We must deal with them as equals, judging them on their merits, not on their pretensions.
A programme like this comes with a price tag. It risks weakening American strength and the resolve to use it in good causes. It will arouse disappointment, even anger in Washington. It will reduce our influence there, and our ability to argue against dangerous American policies. But I believe it responds to some manifest truths. British interests differ at many points from American interests. American power is dangerous as well as necessary. It is in nobody's interest - not even America's - to see the multilateral world we have so laboriously built up in the last half century replaced by an American global empire. And Britain, America's closest friend and some would say last friend, is uniquely placed to start the process of balancing American power with the influence of the rest of the world.
Baron Morgan of Aberdyfi in the County of Gwynedd ; Professor Kenneth O Morgan, distinguished Welsh historian and political biographer)
This article is based on a talk given at a meeting of the Lloyd George Society held at Llanwyrtd Wells, Powys in February 2003. It is copyright and no part of it may be reproduced without the permission of the author or the Society.
I congratulate the Lloyd George Society on their courage. I am in the Lords (500 men etc). Though, in mitigation, six of my books have Lloyd George in the title. But also courage because Lloyd George remains uniquely controversial unlike Churchill - the Greatest Briton according to Mo Mowlam, the BBC poll, and G.W. Bush - and the treatment of Churchill has been uncritical, especially in the United States. Churchill was an irreplaceable war leader in 1940, of course. But most of his life was spent in propping up the past, maintaining the class system, and preserving the empire. His vision of the world, compared with that of Gandhi or Franco, was essentially out-of-date. The veneration of Churchill is based largely on nostalgia for World War Two, which obsesses British people, Dunkirk, Battle of Britain, 'fighting alone'; an obsession that damages our relations with Europe.
By contrast, Lloyd George is associated with World War One -controversial and deeply unpopular conflict - 'Oh, what a lovely war'! Beyond that, Lloyd George has long been seen as a universal scapegoat, a man who destroyed his party, and morally unclean, very much an individualist and an outsider. Compare the shoemaker's cottage with Blenheim Palace, Llanystumdwy national school with Harrow. Described as a 'Dynamic force' by Baldwin, Lloyd George seems out of place in the world of conventional party politics which is a bond with Churchill.
Lloyd George's personality was also unusual. An unfathomable quality, Keynes calls him "half human", "rooted in nothing". A J P Taylor says of him (wrongly) that he 'had no friends and did not deserve any'. Was he a provincial outsider like Mrs Thatcher? But Lloyd George would never have asked 'is he one of us'?
He was a more contemporary figure than Churchill, a maker of the modern world, a symbol and Latimer of the democratic age, one of the great mass leaders who carried Britain kicking and screaming into the 20th Century.
His career had five main phases:
1. Welsh Radical.
I used to think that this was the phase least relevant to the modern world. Lloyd George enmeshed in late nineteenth century Welsh politics - from the age of 5! Absorbed with issues of the Old Liberalism; Church schools, land reform, temperance reform, disestablishment, the 'Unholy Trinity' of bishop, brewer and squire. This was a Liberalism dying even before 1914. He had little professional interest in for example education as a self-made man.
Yet there is much to be said here. An outsider in Welsh politics too - Lloyd George was anxious to move Wales beyond timeworn issues like disestablishment to promote social reform. He was a critic of the chapels and obsessive moralistic Puritanism. Above all, he played a central part in getting Wales recognised as a political reality - Welsh Departments, at Education, Health and Agriculture. He supported the National Library of Wales and the Museum; in 1916 he created the first Welsh 'Taffia'. Lloyd George was the first significant figure to promote Welsh devolution - the Cymru Fydd movement of 1894 - 6 which collapsed with divisions between Welsh-speaking and Anglicised Wales. But this was prophetic - 100 years later a devolved, more democratic Wales and more democratic Britain came about. He showed great courage in this as he did in protesting against the war in South Africa, a fateful divide in his life.
2. Social Reform.
Lloyd George made an immense contribution to our World. He was a pioneer of the welfare state - Britain's main contribution to World Civilization in the twentieth century. In this he worked closely with Churchill - both maverick Liberals - for Old Age Pensions, the People's Budget of 1909, Labour Exchanges, Health and Unemployment Insurance and the Minimum Wage. Lloyd George was very much the main inspiration for these policies (including at the Board of Trade - following the death of his eldest daughter Mair).
There were political motives including the outflanking of both the Labour Party and the tariff reformers; but he was also deeply aware of social injustices working with men like Rowntree, Masterman and Beveridge. He was an instrument of the New Liberalism (and also the Old).
(a) As Chancellor, he was not technically competent. He 'saw statistics from a buoyant and romantic angle'. But he used finance for a purpose, he was the first Chancellor to base his policies on taxation as the basis for long-term social reform. His People's Budget began the policy which lasted until the 1980s of financing social expenditure from direct taxes not personal consumption ('the rich will pay', not 'the 'foreigner').
(b) National Insurance. His greatest peacetime achievement, it provided the basis for the welfare state with insurance benefits paid as of right. He had a new concept of citizenship - social citizenship. And a new role of central government, though linked with private and voluntary agencies and the trade unions - a framework that still endures.
(c) Impetus continued - The abortive 1914 budget was concerned not just with battleships. Lloyd George had discussion with Addison about health (in which the National Health Service was visualized), about urban housing and about revival of local government. The NHS was Bevan's tribute. He initiated and inspired much reform as Prime Minister. His last vote in the Commons was for the Beveridge report in 1943 of which Lloyd George was the precursor.
3. War Leader.
Lloyd George was a Colossus as war leader - quite as significant as that of Churchill in 1940 - 5 and with far greater domestic difficulties, after the events in which he supplanted Asquith as Prime Minister in December 1916. His reputation was later sullied -he was linked with the catastrophe of Passchendaele, the carnage of the trenches, 'goodbye to all that' and the 'coupon election of 1918. Lloyd George was the advocate of 'a fight to a finish' and 'unconditional surrender'.
Lloyd George's impact on the modern world was extraordinary -he saw the mighty empires of Hapsburg, Hohenzollern and Romanov overthrown; and a new more democratic Europe emerge based on national self-determination; the new importance of the USA in world affairs. John Grigg [in his book Lloyd George, War Leader, 1916-1918] shows how remarkably astute Lloyd George was on most of the key issues - on naval strategy (the convoy system to defeat the U boats); on unity of command on the western front; the need to retain the US in Europe and to build up a new international order (the League of Nations); and the importance of building on changes in central and eastern Europe.
Lloyd George's own post war aims, urging a constructive, non-punitive peace, delivered to the TUC, anticipated Wilson's 14 Points, and he was much more far-sighted than Churchill over the need for social reconstruction in Europe.
One great exception was the Balfour Declaration, a mixture of Lloyd George's philosemitism and the need to protect British interests in the Middle East. But it was a disaster, now relevant to the Iraq crisis - Palestine and Mesopotamia.
Lloyd George also had great impact in harnessing the power of the state at home. This was first shown at the Ministry of Munitions in 1915 - 16, not only in the production of shells, machine-guns and tanks but also a wider social transformation - links between government and industry, an enhanced status for the unions, even in matters relating to temperance ('King's Pledge').
In other areas, Education was promoted to meet the need for a trained labour force, state-subsidised housing began and there was a Gender revolution with women in the wartime workforce leading to votes in 1918. Of all leading politicians, Lloyd George was most supportive of women's demands. All these were areas the pre-war New Liberalism had forgotten.
4. Peacetime government.
Lloyd George has bequeathed a bad reputation. He was the champion of the 'hard-faced men who looked as if they had done well out of the war', according to Baldwin and was scathingly criticised by Keynes in the Economic Consequences of the Peace. Yet he had an immense impact on the modern world.
In Foreign Affairs, Versailles did recognise principle of nationality ('little five-foot five nations' - more obvious now than then given the shape of eastern Europe. Lloyd George tried to modify the peace settlement ('Fontainebleau Memorandum'), to scale down reparations, and he was the main force for reconstruction thereafter. The United States played little part after 1919. Lloyd George tried to start a new relationship with Germany, Hitler notwithstanding. He saw the need to build it up as an industrial and trading power, and to try to meet its grievances over its frontiers (e.g. Czechoslovakia and the Polish corridor).
He was very far-sighted over Russia, which he did not treat as a pariah. Lloyd George was open-minded about ideology and was admired by Lenin. He wound up aid for the White Russians which amounted to de facto recognition of the new Russia and entered a trade treaty. His policy was of disarmament and reconciliation. Keynes was totally wrong in his interpretation here.
In his policy towards Ireland we see Lloyd George at his worst and best. Inconsistent in his coercion of the Black and Tans, yet he also saw the legitimacy of Irish nationalist demands plus the need for a separate treaty for Ulster at that time. Lloyd George negotiated the Free State Treaty with Sinn Fein thinking the partition probably would not last very long. He did manage to bring peace to Ireland for fifty years - where Pitt, Peel, Gladstone and Salisbury had all failed. In 1921 no other solution was feasible.
At home he was much less successful. Lloyd George had to grapple not only with the problems of a coalition but also with the first evidence of a national decline. There was some social reform in 1919-20 and a new dialogue with Labour. His coalition was at least more constructive than other regimes in Europe and the US after 1919 which had a strong push to the capitalist right; but his premiership ends with growing unemployment, labour antagonised, cuts in social reform, and the social division that inspired much of the literature of the thirties, such as the work of George Orwell.
His government failed, not only because of its policies but also because of its unstable character. Lloyd George was a Prime Minister without a party, the first presidential Prime Minister, an isolated figure - moving in and amongst private circles of newspaper magnates and hangers-on. He lived a separate life with his mistress - no tabloid intrusions then!
He showed his unorthodoxy in September. 1921 when his Cabinet met in Inverness Town Hall but he was brought down by his lack of party when his Tory partners voted to end the coalition in October 1922. Lloyd George said of Theodore Roosevelt 'he should never have broken with the machine' but he didn't heed his own message.
5. Last phase
In some ways these were very frustrating years and he was distant from them. There were squabbles in the Liberal Party, typified by the rivalry between Lady Violet Bonham Carter and Megan Lloyd George. Lloyd George was also distant from Wales on the whole. One valuable legacy were his War Memoirs, which have stood the test of time. It is a mercy he was ill in 1931 at the time of the formation of the National Government.
(a) To some extent he was an effective critic of appeasement, and especially of Baldwin and Chamberlain. He was very prescient about Russia, and helped to bring Churchill to power in 1940. But his visit to Hitler brought out all his worst side - he was defeatist during the war. Misled by his own diagnosis of failures after 1919, he would not join the government in 1940.
(b) He was the first politician to see the importance of Keynesianism. He used the Liberal Summer Schools to foment ideas. As Masterman said, 'when Lloyd George returned to the Liberal Party, ideas returned to the Liberal Party'. He broke with the sterile policies of deflation and contraction. The Yellow and Orange Books are still read as forward-looking documents. The partnership of the state and private industry in promoting employment and public investment remained the conventional wisdom down to the 1980s.
Lloyd George was described as 'The big beast', 'the goat', rogue elephant in the political jungle. He admired 'big men' - Caesar, Cromwell, Napoleon, Theodore Roosevelt and, alas, Hitler. He was more like a US politician; in his handling of the media he had a unique appreciation of the role of the press.
In personal terms, he was a symbol of open government and the 'permissive society'. His legacy is written large all over our world -
Welsh Devolution, the Welfare State, and Lords reform; the New World order (Ireland, Egypt, India; Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East).
He was our greatest democratic leader - a radical who was an artist in the uses of power; more radical than any leader of the Labour Party from MacDonald to Blair. He was an iconoclast. He took a detached view of parliament, the City ('flapping penguins'), the civil service, the armed forces, the Church and the Monarchy. He was an integral part of the wider Celtic entry into the British establishment, slowly making our country more democratic and egalitarian.
He had disastrous failures on the party political front - his methods aroused distrust and hostility but Lloyd George was one of the most controversial but also most contemporary of our Prime Ministers - A Great Briton. To quote Taylor - 'the greatest ruler this country has known since Oliver Cromwell'.
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.
What I am going to talk about is the last 15 years of Lloyd George's life from 1930 to 1945. It was not a twilight. The 15 years, except for the last few months, were packed with action and with hopes and planning for the future. He wrote a large number of books, the six volumes of the War Memoirs among them, but he wrote not only to put the record straight, but chiefly so that we could avoid in the future the mistakes of the past. He travelled a great deal and he had discussions with many people of interest, including Gandhi and Hitler. At the same time he created a one thousand acre farm out of land that been thought of as almost impossible to cultivate. He irrigated, improved the land and on it he grew hundreds of acres of fruit, and bred pigs and poultry.
Where do I fit in the story of the last 15 years? In the late 1920s, he became temporarily discouraged about his political future. Among other things, it was the beginning of a time of serious illness. So he thought he would allow his long-term mistress, Frances Stevenson , to have the baby she longed for. She was 40 in 1928 and in previous years she had had at two abortions to protect him from scandal. But now, perhaps, it would not matter so much, as long as she never claimed that the child was his, and neither of them ever did make such a claim.
He died when I was 15 and until then no one had ever suggested that I was his child. Afterwards I was aware that people thought I might be, but my mother kept her counsel until her own death 27 years later, though just before she died she wrote me a curious, ambiguous, letter which may have been meant to acknowledge that the father she mentioned was LG. However for the whole of the 27 years she stuck to her story that she had had an affair with another man, Colonel Tweed, one of LG's political advisers who was already married. Sometimes she even claimed to have married him, though it is certain that their affair never led to marriage, and when she showed me the certificate of her marriage in Guildford Register Office in 1943, the certificate referred to David Lloyd George as a widower and to Frances Stevenson as a spinster.
For the 10 days after Christmas 1928, LG had been intending to be on holiday with his family but he was not well, and he spent the time with my mother at Bron-y-de at Churt. He then joined his wife and children. Before he left, my mother said she suspected that she was pregnant and would send him a covert message if that proved to be the case. A little later she sent him a telegram saying, "The parcel we were expecting has arrived."
My mother spent much of her pregnancy in France, where she had relatives, but returned to England for the birth, as things did not go very well, and LG trusted English doctors more than French ones. I was born on October 4th 1929. As they had agreed, neither of them ever claimed that I was LG's child. On the advice of a solicitor, my mother officially adopted me. I spent my first few months being looked after by a "minder" who cared for several other children as well. Then I lived for four years in a house my mother had bought in Worplesdon about 20 miles from Bron-y-de, but frequently visited them there. Early in 1935 I moved into a house called Avalon that my mother had built a mile from Bron-y-de, and I visited them there daily when I was not at school.
LG was a philanderer; that one cannot deny, but his relationship with his two wives was different. He married Margaret in the year in which my mother was born. His wife was always referred to in my hearing as Dame Margaret, as she had been made a Dame before I was born. My mother became LG's mistress in 1912, and his second wife in 1943, two years after Dame Margaret's death in 1941.
You could say that he had a Welsh wife and an English wife. Caernarfonshire and Westminster were a great deal further apart, in terms of the time it took to go from one to the other than they are now. The Welsh wife looked after the constituency, his children, and occasionally, reluctantly, she visited London.
My mother was his English wife. She was actually half Scottish, a quarter French, and a quarter Italian - which makes her typically English. She was interested in politics and personalities and was able to advise and encourage him in a way that he appreciated.
I never heard him make a complimentary remark in my mother's presence about Dame Margaret and presumably he did not make any complimentary remarks about my mother to Dame Margaret. I am quite sure that Dame Margaret never heard him make any kind remarks about us. It is a quite remarkable thing that he kept two wives happy, most of the time concurrently, one for more than 50 years, the other for more than 30. Many people have difficulty in keeping just one wife happy for less time. But both wives were prepared to put him first, and in fact he insisted on that explicitly and without embarrassment. He was not a feminist!
My mother kept to the bargain she had made when he said she could have a child, but must not claim that it was his. In fact, she did have an affair with another man, and no one will ever know if this was a betrayal of LG or a rather extreme attempt to provide a cover if a scandal seemed to be in the offing. Oddly enough it never was.
So I called LG "Taid" (Grandfather). He was 66 when I was born, and I knew that he was not my grandfather, but he was the perfect grandfather-figure. He had responsibility for my discipline or day-to-day care, but he would spend as much time as he wanted or could spare on educating and entertaining me; and in fact the two were very often the same thing. When I was at home he took me on his daily visits to them farm and we had lunch together. He talked to me as if I was an adult. Most people did not, but I found it agreeable to be talked to in this way. He entertained me by telling me about the books and music that he liked. When I was 8 he took me to Stratford to see my first Shakespeare play - The Merry Wives of Windsor - appropriately enough. The following year he took me to London to see Gilbert and Sullivan's Yeomen of the Guard. His favourite of the Savoy Operas was Iolanthe with its parody of both Houses of Parliament, much of which he taught me at a very early age.
He also took my mother and me to Paris with him in 1938, partly so that he could have talks with Leon Blum and partly in order to show me the places that were important to him. We went to Les Invalides, where Napoleon is buried. He was a great admirer of Napoleon, the foreign upstart who had risen to the top of his world. In Les Invalides, there was the death mask of Clemenceau that was as important to him as the tomb of Napoleon. Clemenceau had disliked LG intensely, but that never worried him. LG admired his ferocity as well as his cleverness. LG could take on his enemies with enthusiasm and humour. It was people whom he had thought were his friends, only to find out later that they were not, whom he could not forgive for what he regarded as betrayals.
He read widely. He had a phenomenal memory for what he had read, and when and where he had read it. For light reading his preferences were Dickens and for Wild West stories especially Zane Grey . He infected me with his love for Dickens but I totally failed to appreciate Zane Grey though I enjoyed Wild West films. He had a large library built at the end of the living room in Bron-y-de and showed films there every Saturday evening, first a Western after which I went to bed. This was normally followed by an adult film. The only adult film I was allowed to stay up for was Proud Valley starring Paul Robeson, about an accident in a coalmine in South Wales. I continued to have nightmares about it for several years.
During the 1930s, one of LG's main occupations was the writing of the War Memoirs, six volumes of them. He had two purposes in writing them. One was, as he said, that many other people had written their versions of what had happened. He said that his shelves were groaning under the weight of books about the warm but no one else had seen it from start to finish in such detail, or from his perspective. The other and more important reason was from that 1933 onwards it seemed clear that we were approaching another war, and were approaching it with far too much complacency. We won last time didn't we? So of course we would win again! This was an attitude which appalled LG. He never, ever, thought of our having won the war, only of Germany having lost it. They lost it because they made more mistakes than we did, but only just. Two mistakes in particular were that the generals had more power than the politicians and that morale became low among German civilians. Wives and parents were writing to men at the front saying that they were cold and hungry and that everything was going wrong. In contrast, morale in Britain remained high and this was to a great extent due to LG himself, just as it was due to Churchill in the war which followed. But, almost up to the last minute in 1918 it was touch and go who would win. We were lucky that the Germans made so many mistakes, not clever ourselves that we did not. We might not win a second time and it was necessary to say so.
The memoirs were not written to justify himself. He could admit that we could make mistakes and that even he himself had made mistakes, but I think he always thought that his mistakes were due to his having been overrules by someone else. And the greatest mistake he made, in my view, was in allowing his dislike of party politics to let the Liberal Party slide into division and disarray. Asquith had considerable responsibility for this, but LG's 'coupon election' was a disaster for the Liberal Party. Basically it was LG's contempt for the machinations of political parties that never really allowed him to use them to get back into power. He had plenty of good ideas that he would have liked to have seen put into practice but he lacked a party to support him.
It must also be said that he made a mistake over Hitler. He admired him for having achieved in Germany some of the things LG would have like to see in England, the ending of unemployment for example, LG had written a book called "We can Conquer Unemployment" and the building of a road system which anticipated needs, rather than as always in Britain, tried to catch up with them. He also, I think, felt some regret, not guilt, for the way in which the Peace Treaties had been administered, so that Germany had been in a sense forced to become once again a threat to its neighbours. But because he liked Hitler personally and approved of some of his actions, he did turn a blind eye to what was being done to the Jews. He was told some about some unpleasant events but he would not confront them and talked instead, to me anyway, about the harm done to the economies of industrial countries by the power of international Jewry. He saw it, I think, much as many people see the power of multi-nationals today. But the persecution of ordinary people in Germany, which in normal circumstances would have roused his most active sympathy, was a matter to which he certainly turned a blind eye. This was a serious fault, it must be admitted.
And this is perhaps the point at which to discuss his attitude to politics in general. He went into politics out of a passionate concern for the under-privileged, the poor, the sick and those unable to stand up for themselves. He felt that only through politics could the wrongs done to such people be put right and it was always his first concern, his overriding interest. He was ambitious but ambitious to bring about changes which would help ordinary people. He was always prepared to work with rich and powerful people who had the same interests at heart but he had nothing but contempt for people who thought that having more money, land and titles made them of greater value than other people and entitled them to do nothing for others. He felt as much contempt for them as they had for "this little upstart from Wales". They were prepared to flatter him but in their view he was not 'one of us' and indeed he was glad not to be.
It is true that he accepted an earldom in the end. There were plenty of people who felt this was a great disappointment - that after all his gibes at the House of Lords, he had ended by joining them. At that time there were no "life peers". He would have been a great deal happier if he had not been forced to found a dynasty. But the facts are these. In the autumn of 1944 [aged 81] he was seriously ill and he was told he would not be able to fight another election. He did not know that he was dying. He certainly did not know that he would be dead before the next election, only that one was in the offing and that he would not be able to take part in it. By this time he had moved to Llanystumdwy. He was living in a beautiful Queen Anne house, Ty Newydd, which had been converted by Clough Williams Ellis to give a splendid room with a view over the mountains - the room in which he was to die a few months later. He resigned his seat in the Commons. He had represented the same constituency for 54 years. He was dejected and depressed.
I was at boarding school and I arrived home for the Christmas holidays to find Taid at the point of death. Then, on January 1st 1945, he became a member of the Houses of Parliament again! He had accepted an earldom with every prospect of taking part in parliamentary debates. In fact, he never did for he died at the end of March. But for those three months he had renewed hope, even renewed health. The change on the first of January was like a miracle. People blamed my mother for his accepted an earldom and many vituperative letters were written. She would have been perfectly happy to have remained Mrs Lloyd George.
I have not yet spoken much about his Welshness. There are recordings of his voice with a gentle Welsh lilt and it should never be forgotten that he has so far been the only British Prime Minister for whom English was not his first language. In all his years in Parliament he always had a Welsh-speaking secretary. During the First World War when he was Prime Minister and visiting the western front in France he could telephone directly to his Welsh-speaking secretary in London and the Germans found this an impenetrable code. He told gentle jokes about Welsh preachers, Welsh farmers and Welsh politicians.
He did not know that he was going to die when he left Bron-y-de in 1944 but he bought Ty Newydd intending to settle there, in the country where he planned to be buried on the banks of the River Dwyfor. He wanted to spend eternity hearing the sound of the river, more a romantic than a theological concept. He certainly did not want to be buried in Westminster Abbey.
When he died on March 26th 1945, I myself was standing at the end of his bed. My mother was on his left with the doctor. Megan was on his right. Gwilym and Olwen were both a little further away. It was all very peaceful. His breaths came further and further apart and suddenly no breath at all.
The funeral was on Good Friday, April 1st 1945. The war was still on and there was very little transport public or private, but eight thousand people made their way to the banks of the Dwyfor. They beautifully and with a full heart, the Welsh hymns that he had grown up with and always loved. Clough Williams Ellis, the architect who had built Port Meirion and had designed the lovely room in which LG died, made a beautiful and simple monument around the site of the grave and thousands of people visit it every year.
People have asked me how I think he would like to be remembered. I am sure that he would wish to be remembered as someone who cared more for the under-privileged than for the great and comfortable, more for the poor than for the rich; more for other people than for himself.
But I do think he would also like to be remembered for the things he did not have a chance to do. He initiated the Welfare State and he brought in the Old Age Pension using his magnificent energy and his skill at manipulating people so they did what he wanted. He hated war and minded about every casualty. There was no triumphalism in his attitude after the war was over, only infinite regret that it had been necessary.
If there had been no war, he might well have become a great reforming Prime Minister bringing in measures that had to wait another thirty years. It was a tragedy for him and the country as a whole that he did not have the opportunity to accomplish all that he had hoped to achieve.
The Lloyd George Society is not exclusively devoted to the study of the career of David Lloyd George, or to considering aspects of Welsh, British or international politics, although it is fair to say these are our main interests. The Society invites guests to its weekend schools from a range of professions and specialisms. Wynfford James' article is based on a talk given at a meeting of the Lloyd George Society held in February 2003.
It is copyright and no part of it may be reproduced without the permission of the author or the Society.
The WDA took over the responsibility for the food sector back in 1999 from Welsh Food Promotions - when it was felt that food should become a part of mainstream economic development.
Our role in the Food Directorate is twofold - it is to develop the agri-food industry and to market Welsh produce. But before I talk about Wales' food industry today, I would like to give you a historical perspective on our food industry to date…
Back in the 15th and 16th centuries, Wales had a very rich food culture, and our 'great houses' were famed for their fine banquets with lavish entertainment from travelling bards.
But since the Second World War the perception of food from Wales has not been the best - too often the tag a 'culinary desert' was applied. However, in the last twenty years there has been an increasing awareness of the kind of food available, and its use has become appreciated in hotels and restaurants in Wales, throughout Britain and abroad. Welsh foods are also being increasingly sought by the manufacturing industry and by retailers and consumers.
For a small country Wales has a very diverse terrain and so of produce - from the land and the sea. We have a long coastline, fertile pastures; great areas of moor land and rugged mountains. The sea, rivers and land produce a huge variety of foods, and now we are really waking up to how these products can be used to their best in catering, retailing and in food manufacturing.
Our coastline varies from the wild cliffs of Pembrokeshire and the Llyn Peninsula to the large bays of Cardigan and Carmarthen and the vast estuaries of the Mawddach and the Severn.
Through history numerous species have been fished and gathered, and our coastline's rich resources have attracted more and more sophisticated fishing fleets.
In the interwar years the ports of Swansea, Cardiff and Milford Haven were home to great fleets fishing for hake. But over-fishing and competition from Spanish fleets led to the decline of this fishery, and by the 1960s only small fleets remained, fishing for prime species such as Dover sole, plaice, turbot, brill, and ray. These are still landed in reasonable quantities, but with EU fishing policy, foreign boats take much of the catch, sending it directly to their home markets, particularly Spain.
As the larger ports declined, numerous small harbours have become hives of activity with small boats fishing for prime species, particularly bass. This fish was totally undervalued until a decade ago when it became fashionable in restaurants. There were under-fished stocks of bass all around the coast that now provide considerable income for many fishermen. Other fish that have become more important in recent years include monk, John Dory and red and grey mullet.
Unfortunately over the years the amount of salmon and sewin in Welsh rivers has declined, as has the quantity caught in our estuaries. But some rivers still have reasonable runs of these migratory fish, mainly sold to local catering outlets, particularly good restaurants and country house hotels, giving a local colour to menus over the spring and summer. Trout farms throughout Wales enjoy similar markets and beyond, particularly to the Midlands. But they also provide angling facilities for locals and for tourists as an extra income earner.
Many of the boats in the small ports also fish for crab and lobster over the summer months, plus scallops and queens in some areas. The value of the catch can be significant as continental buyers pay top prices. Similarly these markets are hugely important to the mussel, cockle and oyster industries.
The husbandry of mussels has become a significant business in Bangor, and now this port accounts for about half the total landings of mussels of all UK fisheries combined. The immature mussels are dredged and relaid onto best growing areas in the Menai straits, known as 'lays' where they quickly grow to market size. Though the majority of them are exported (about 8,000 tons annually) to the huge continental buyers, several hundred tons a year are sold to the domestic restaurant market.
At low tide the high tidal movement uncovers vast areas of rock and sand, exposing the cockle beds of Penclawdd and areas around Carmarthen Bay, particularly Laugharne and Ferryside. Unfortunately recent problems have meant production of cockles is limited to the latter two areas, keeping local markets supplied but not the lucrative export markets.
Laverbread also arises from the cockle industry. This seaweed puree made from 'laver' is the same species used for nori in Japan.
Laverbread became a staple part of the diet in mining communities of South Wales in the 19th century, and was sold to the Derbyshire coalfield area, where it was found to be beneficial to thyroid metabolism, and a cure for goitre. It was also eaten in many of the spas throughout England. It is still widely appreciated as a local food, but is also being used by creative chefs in restaurants through Wales and beyond.
Moving from the sea onto land, estuary salt marshes around Wales flood during spring tides giving growth to a range of plants grazed by sheep over the summer months. In recent years the culinary value of these 'salt marsh' lambs has been realised - salt marsh lamb has been widely lauded by top chefs including Rick Stein during his recent Food Heroes programme.
Lamb is by far the best-known produce of Wales, but our varied terrain means that the locality where lambs are reared significantly affects their taste and quality. Lamb from the Brecon Beacons, the Radnorshire moors, the Berwyns and the mountains of Snowdonia have individual characteristics, and present niche marketing opportunities.
Lamb also varies throughout the season, from the light, pale spring lamb to the herby savour of autumn mountain lamb and the distinctive stronger taste of hogget. This provides many marketing opportunities to keep the good name of Welsh lamb high in the public eye.
Welsh pastures rarely suffer from lack of rainfall and so provide ample grazing for cattle - dairy and beef. The success of Welsh Black cattle as a breed has been significant in recent years. The quality of the meat is held in the highest regard amongst butchers and top chefs, even though it may not be as commercial as other breeds and crosses. The tenacity of some farming families has kept this breed established and herds are now increasing significantly across Wales. But farms have equal success with the main breeds as Friesians and Herefords, and farm assured Welsh beef is highly regarded, and the pride of the numerous independent butchers throughout Wales.
As with many of the regions of Britain, Wales always had a tradition of pig farming, mostly on a domestic scale, as the pig was a great provider of a wide range of cured meats for winter months. Cured local hams are still available from rural butchers, but the most notable producer is Albert Rees, whose cured Carmarthen ham now holds a fine reputation across Britain. This dry cured ham is considered an equal to Italian prosciutto.
Poultry has a long tradition in Wales, the Pembroke turkey considered by many the finest for the festive season. Many of today's country estates also provide high yields of game, including pheasant, partridge, mallard, woodcock and snipe. Wild venison today comes predominantly from Brecon and Margam.
West Wales has one great natural advantage for agriculture. The influence of the Gulf Stream keeps the climate mild, the south part of Pembrokeshire rarely suffering from frost. This means that crops can be produced several weeks ahead of the rest of Britain. Before the days of massive vegetable imports from Africa and South America, farms could make a fortune from early new potatoes. South Gower has a similarly mild nature, as does the Vale of Glamorgan, and the Vale of Clwyd. The crops include new potatoes, cauliflower, swede, parsnip, carrots, broccoli, courgettes, leeks, and a significant volume of fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, and blackcurrants.
The nature of the terrain in most parts of Wales is not conducive to large scale farming, as in other parts of Britain and Europe, and this has turned out to be an advantage in many cases. The changes in agricultural policy in the early 1950s encouraged high yields and large scale; but against this the Soil Association held many of its former meetings in West Wales, a founder member being the Rowlands farm near Aberystwyth, now famed for the Rachel's Organic dairy brand. Similarly other farms remained traditional, and when the organic movement began, many farms were ready to take advantage.
Similarly when milk quotas forced smaller producers to reconsider their position, it actually pushed many to look for value added from their output. Cheese production was a natural progression and this has been one of the most interesting developments of all. Today Wales produces over 50 cheeses, many of which have won at the prestigious British Cheese Awards.
Another great national asset is water, the supply of which seems endless, as wet summers have become a thing of the present. Welsh water supplies the main cities of central England from the great reservoirs of the Elan Valley, Lake Vyrnwy and Llyn Cywedog. Natural springs are abundant in Wales and over a dozen have been used for up-market bottled water for the retail and catering industry. The iconic blue bottle Ty Nant, now in red as well, can be found in most countries of the world.
It is most prominently displayed in a great wall of colour in Dean and Deluca, New York's finest food store that's favoured by serial killer Hannibal Lecter, immortalised by the Welsh actor Anthony Hopkins. It is also seen in James Bond films and London Fashion Week.
There are currently around fifteen small vineyards producing wines of every vintage in Wales. Though it's mooted the Romans brought vines to Wales, there are full records of wine production near Barry in the early 20th century. Most vineyards were planted in the 1980s and hence the vines are mature and the quality of the fruit makes pleasant, light wines, mainly white from German grape varieties. Mead, liqueurs, country wines and now the first whisky production from the Brecon distillery give a wide range of drinks with which to celebrate the fine food from the country.
There are so many foods from Wales I haven't mentioned - but I hope I have given you a taster of the history of our food culture.
Today Welsh food and drink enjoys a good reputation. Extensive branding research carried out over the past few years told us that consumers see Welsh food as being grown or produced in a natural and clean environment and as "tasting as it should". From this research we moved to develop what is seen as a credible positioning for the food and drink industry in Wales. "Wales: The True Taste brand".
The Agency markets Welsh food and drink under this brand at home and abroad and the profile of our produce is growing year on year. Our extensive trade development work is ensuring that more and more Welsh products are appearing on the shelves of retailers across Wales, the UK, Europe, and further afield.
The brand is also being delivered through Wales' first ever True Taste Food and Drink Awards. We have 37 winners who are currently being widely promoted to the industry and consumers. We already know that the awards' brand, which is appearing on winners' packaging, is already proving a major advantage when it comes to finding new markets for Welsh products.
Alongside the brand development and promotion there is heavy investment into the industry - the processing and marketing grant scheme alone has resulted in over £30 million in investment into the industry in the past 18 months. The scheme is encouraging Welsh processing companies to develop their businesses and to add value to our raw materials - so ensuring more of that value remains in Wales and is reinvested into Wales.
We really have so much to be proud of here in Wales, and at home our food culture is developing apace. Last year we had over 50 food festivals across the nation - this would have been unheard of five years ago. We now boast five, Michelin starred restaurants as well as 285 restaurants and cafes recognised in national food guides. Wales' Culinary Team returned from its first ever Culinary
World Cup in Luxembourg laden with awards - so much for that 'gastronomic Desert' that A. A. Gill talked about.
The Lloyd George Society is not exclusively devoted to the study of the career of David Lloyd George, or to considering aspects of Welsh, British or international politics, although it is fair to say these are our main interests. The Society invites guests to its weekend schools from a range of professions and specialisms. Professor Jones' 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. Please note the science and technology of GM crops may have moved on since the lecture was given.
The starting point for the debate about GM Crops has to be what we mean by crops in the usual sense in which we use this word. With very few exceptions none of our modern day crops are wild plants. They are domesticated forms of their wild relatives, which have been selected and bred by humans over long periods of time, and in many cases they no longer resemble their wild ancestors. In many cases too, we no longer know their ancestry.
Take as a familiar example the cauliflower. Its wild relative is a weedy species of Brassica oleracea, which still grows in this country and it resembles the rape, which we often see by the roadside. The cauliflower is actually an inflorescence with about 10,000 immature flowers making up the edible parts. It had been produced by selective breeding under domestication and it is the same species as the Brussels sprout, the kohlrabi, the kale, the broccoli and the cabbage which all originate from the wild Brassica oleracea following selection for different edible parts of the plant. These crops are 'genetic monsters' and they share this attribute with many others, e.g. wheat, maize, potatoes, sugar beet, rice and tomatoes to name but a few.
In the breeding of these crops, to improve their productivity and their nutritional properties, we have altered them greatly from their wild ancestors and in making them edible we have stripped them of their natural defences against a multitude of pests and diseases. To grow them productively, and to minimise losses, we now have to protect them by the use of chemical pesticides and insecticides (or use organic husbandry practices). Breeding can also include introducing natural genes for resistance, as well as the continuous process of ever increasing yields and improving nutritional properties. This breeding is not an exact science. It may begin by crossing together existing varieties of a crop, or trying to bring in variation from a wild relative but in any event the initial crossing combines many thousands of genes from the parent plants involved and these have then to be sorted out over many further cycles of crossing to try and end up with the introduction of just a few useful traits.
Gm crops offer a new way of breeding, which is more exact, and which allows us to move single genes from one species into another even when the species concerned are unrelated or even from different kingdoms - genes from a jellyfish into a potato for example. What has happened to make this new technology of recombinant DNA possible? The answers go back to the 1970s when scientists discovered how to take DNA out of one species, cut it into tiny pieces at very particular places and then stitch one tiny piece (a gene) into the DNA of any other species. The science has moved on now to the point where a single useful gene from one species can be cloned in the laboratory and then introduced into a host crop species by using some natural vector, like a bacterium, to carry it into the cells of the host where it will insert itself into the host's chromosomes and thereby make a genetically modified organism. Another method of gene transfer is to make multiple copies of a useful gene; coat gold pellets with these genes and then 'shoot' them into a host crop plant using a DNA gun. In any event it is now routinely possible to place a gene from any living organism into any other one. All living organisms share the same genetic code after all.
The idea of this kind of genetic engineering has provoked two kinds of reaction: some find it tremendously exciting to be able to manipulate crop plants in such a precise way for the benefit of humans, and others find it frightening.
What kind of new plants are being made? Soya, resistant to herbicides: spray the crop and kill all the weeds, leaving the soya crop. Maize resistant to the corn borer insect (the grub), using a gene from bacterium; rice enriched with vitamin A, using a gene for a beta-carotene from daffodils; dustbin crops (rape, poplar, tobacco) that will soak up pollutants such as mercury from the soil; bananas, for producing edible vaccines; tobacco engineered to produce drugs to treat ovarian cancer; plants with new architectural properties.
We already know since the year 2000 of all the genes in the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress, a brassica from the cabbage family): its genome has been entirely sequenced.  has seen the completion of the sequencing of the genome of rice, a member of the gramineae - grasses and cereals.
All plants have essentially the same genes, so with this new information it can now be said that we know virtually all of the genes that exist in our plant crops. Genetic engineering will now use this knowledge to restructure plants, i.e. make GM plants using other plant genes - is this not acceptable?
A major concern of GM crops is that they may be harmful to health, although no such harmful effects have yet been discovered since the first transgenic plant was made in 1984. Given the level of testing involved, as in GM soya (which was eaten for three years) for example, where the level of protein component is completely defined in biological terms, it could be said that GM crops are the safest foods we can eat. Who knows all the chemicals in a cauliflower, or if it has small negative effects on health? Who knows how dangerous the mycotoxins (poisons produced by fungal pathogens in wheat grains) are that are found in flour made from wheat? They can be fatal. DNA is not harmful to eat. We eat the genes of a wide spectrum of organisms all the time - when we eat fresh fruit and vegetables, yeast in beer, live oysters, lightly cooked fillet steak, raw fish, mussels, bacteria in yoghurt, fungus in cheese - we actually eat the entire genome of these organisms.
Nonetheless, we must be aware of possible risks, whatever they might be. To say we should be risk free is to ask too much. On this basis we would not have, for example, vaccines against polio, blood transfusions, antibiotics, or do any surgical procedures in hospitals, or have any vehicles on the roads, or smoke cigarettes or do many things where the risk factors may be of a high order. We accept engineered foods, such as nutribread, which contains sex hormones for post-menstrual women, margarine which contains wood pulp to reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood, and in the United States, foods with synthetic drugs, alternative medicines and growth hormones. Why do we accept engineered foods but not GM crops?
Are GM crops harmful to the environment? Only testing will give us the answer to this question. To put the issue in context we have to realise the harm we are already doing to the environment by modern intensive agricultural practices: namely the loss of biodiversity, loss of the soil, resistance to man-made pesticides and herbicides. It is estimated that more than 500 species of insect are already resistant to widely used insecticides and that over 200 species of weeds are evolving resistance to herbicides used as crop sprays. No new form of resistance due to GM crops is known. And it is often argued that by using GM crops we can drastically reduce the application of chemical sprays onto our crops - as with cotton in the southern United States and China.
Will GM crops escape into the wild, or cross-hybridise with wild species? In most cases in the UK this is impossible. There is no wild wheat, no wild maize, and no wild tomatoes. The main concern is with oilseed rape, which can cross-pollinate with wild species, so this problem has to be solved. Should we ban GM maize and wheat just because rape might be at risk?
Will the issue of GM crops go away? The answer is no. In China alone there are now 1,000 research institutes as well as American and European Universities undertaking GM research and making new GM crops. When we get a new GM crop (say broccoli),which has anti-cancer properties, do we imagine that people will decline to eat it or that they should be denied the choice to do so?
This was a talk given at the weekend school of 6-8 February 2004 at the Abernant Lake Hotel, Llanwrtyd Wells. It remains the copyright of the author and may not be reproduced without the consent of the author or the Society.
When I first suggested giving a talk about the Royal Prerogative, I thought the Public Affairs Select Committee (PASC) would have completed their investigation of the issue by Christmas and I could take its report as my point of departure. The PASC will not now be reporting before the spring, but it may be helpful to you to have some background against which to interpret, or criticise, the Committee's findings when they are published.
Luckily Lord Hutton has come to my rescue. Whether or not he intended it, and we know thanks to him that these things can come about sub-conscientiously, his report has spot-lighted some of the ways power is exercised at the dark heart of government.
Hutton's remit only allowed him to investigate, rather partially, why Mr Blair decided to go to war in Iraq. Among many other interesting questions he did not address was how the prime minister was able to take this country into a war that so few even of his natural supporters wanted and against the clearly expressed wishes of at least half the population. I aim to fill in that gap.
A Shakespeare play is as a starting point for my enquiry as any. With a wicked sense of timing, the National Theatre mounted a revisionist production of Henry V last summer. Remember the opening lines:
O for a muse of fire that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A desert for a stage, generals to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Tony, George Bush,
Assume the port of Mars: and at his heels,
Leashed in like hounds, should famine, shock and awe,
Crouch for employment.
The build up to the invasion of France in 1415 which preceded the battle of Agincourt bears a striking resemblance to the build up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In both cases a hyper-active monarch is impatient to invade a foreign country but is worried about the legalities. Henry V took legal advice. The Archbishop of Canterbury assured him that since Salic law originated in Germany, not France, the French king had no right to the French throne and Henry was perfectly justified in seizing it by whatever means he chose, including war. Thus fortified, Henry sallied forth, won a one- sided battle and returned triumphant.
Fast forward 600 years and only the names have changed. Today's monarch, dressed as a man of the people, seeks legal justification for the invasion of a foreign country, this time from his Attorney- General. Lord Goldsmith delves into the complex web of UN resolutions, a modern version of the Salic law, and again comes up with the justification his monarch needs so that he can wage his war with a clear conscience.
I was myself once a Crown Servant, but had never fully understood why my actions could not be challenged by the courts or by Parliament. Knowing however that it had something to do with a thing called the Royal Prerogative (RP), when I later joined the Council of Charter 88, I offered to research the subject for them, unsure what I would find.
It soon became clear that, far from being of no account, as one expert had assured me, the Royal Prerogative lay at the very heart of our system of government. It is defined in the constitutional text books as "the gradually diminishing residuum of customary authority, privilege and immunity recognised at common law as belonging to the Crown and the Crown alone." A prerogative is something that an authority can demand before or above all others. So in simple language the Royal Prerogative is the last vestige of the absolute power which English monarchs wielded in the Middle Ages.
To understand how it has remained embedded in our supposedly democratic age, we have to go back to the Norman Conquest, the big bang from which all our constitutional arrangements originate, and trace our subsequent history from this narrow perspective. As a continental monarch, William I had ruled Normandy by Divine Right of Kings. Once he had defeated the English army he ruled his new country by right of conquest as well. The two rights added up to uncontested and absolute power.
Gradually this absolute power was whittled away. Habeas Corpus, Magna Carta, the deposition of Richard II, the rise of Parliament, the execution of Charles I all stepping stones. But then a funny thing happens. The process stalls. In theory Divine Right died with Charles I. But its ghost returned with the Restoration and put on flesh again when Parliament invited William of Orange to become the world's first constitutional monarch.
Now William was no fool and knew well that the Board of Directors of England plc needed him as much as he needed the throne. So, like any self-respecting incoming Chief Executive, he negotiated a very satisfactory package for himself:
He agreed to give up his predecessors' rights to maintain a standing army and raise taxation without Parliament's consent. But in return he got to keep some of the monarchy's most important prerogative powers; three in particular:
- to choose his own ministers
- to make his own policy (especially foreign policy, including the right to declare war); and
- to influence opinion in Parliament by means of elections and patronage.
It is little appreciated that political and constitutional life in this country is still shaped by the so-called Glorious, in fact half-hearted, Revolution of 1688. Parliament looks different since the once dominant House of Lords has been relegated to the side-lines by the Commons. The people vote governments in and out. The monarch no longer plays a political role. But what has actually happened is that some of the monarch's traditional powers and attributes have been perpetuated under the guise of the so-called Crown.
Ah, the Crown. The constitutional lawyer's nirvana, the subject the experts can discuss all day without leaving the non-expert any the wiser. I sometimes feel it resembles nothing so much as Lewis Carroll's Snark which the Bellman and his motley crew pursued with forks and hope. The term 'Crown' has no fixed meaning. It means different things depending on context. Sometimes it means the Queen. But Crown Servants are not directly employed by the monarch, nor is Crown Property owned by her. For many purposes it approximates to 'Government'. Whatever it is, one leading authority has called it "the central organising principle of what passes for our constitution".
It is easy to make fun of this typically British nonsense. In the paper I eventually wrote for Charter 88, I described it as a "richly embroidered carpet on which those engaged in the practical business of governing the realm can walk with confidence, leaving the academics and the lawyers to retrieve and make sense of all the awkward abstract issues that have been swept underneath". But some of these issues are actually very serious.
There is the little matter of sovereignty for one. As most schoolchildren used to know, sovereignty in Britain is vested not in Parliament but in the Crown-in-Parliament. But nobody knows exactly what this formula is supposed to mean. It sounds, and is no doubt intended to sound, portentous and reassuring, but it carries unfortunate echoes of the 17th century struggle between King and Parliament. It is, I believe, a fudge, masking the continuing failure to settle the relationship between executive and legislature that lies at the heart of our unwritten constitution. "The question is" said Humpty-Dumpty "which is to be master - that's all". We still don't quite know the answer.
By sleight of hand most of the monarch's residual powers have over the past 300 years been passed down to the Prime Minister, who nowadays acts as a kind of Viceroy when he's not impersonating the actual monarch.
Let us now look at the surviving prerogative powers and how they work in practice. Last year the PASC persuaded the government to publish a list of the powers. Many, such as the well known ownership of swans, are unimportant. But the more important ones turn out to be strikingly familiar to the powers William of Orange managed to hang on to.
I want to focus on four groups of them: those directly affecting Parliament; those involving patronage; those affecting the machinery of government; and those involving foreign policy including war.
A British prime minister has weapons at his disposal which we take for granted but which are denied his counterparts in virtually every other western democracy. Within the five year span enforced by the 1911 Parliament Act, he can call an election at any time of his choosing. He sets the legislative timetable and introduces all major pieces of legislation. He appoints all his ministers, which sounds uncontentious, until one realises that appoints far more ministers than any other western head of government. This thinly disguised job-creation scheme gives him enviable powers of patronage and ensures that a good proportion of potentially troublesome backbenchers are safely muzzled on the government's payroll.
The rules of our parliamentary game have in fact been deliberately designed to give the government of the day and in particular the prime minister, the initiative. The text books take it as read that constitutionally speaking Government is more important than Parliament. Like the server in tennis, if one imagines a parliamentary session approximating to one game, the prime minister has the advantage, providing he knows how to capitalise on it.
Patronage does not stop there. Remember William of Orange's placemen? Their counterparts today are the heads of quangos such as the Regional Health Authorities. The PM also gets to choose the heads of public corporations such as the BBC and the head of the Anglican Church. He advises the Queen on the appointment of the Dean of Christ Church.
But his most potent weapon is control of the honours system. That system has come in for some criticism lately but most of seems to have missed the fundamental flaw, which is that at bottom it remains what it always was, an extension of royal and hence political patronage. Even the award of MBEs to England's rugby players is a political act. The award of peerages is a much more serious matter, not so much because it has been for long so obviously a political act, and as such an abuse of the ideal of honour, as because of its constitutional implications. In any other western country it would preposterous that a single politician should have the power to alter the composition of parliament.
Regulation of the Civil Service does not appear to be on William's list until one remembers that throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, until Mr Gladstone's reforms of the 1860s, civil servants or their equivalents were viewed primarily as subject s of patronage - jobs for the favoured boys.
Gladstone thought his reforms had put paid to all that, but never thought it necessary to have them enshrined in law. So we still find a very senior civil servant 'sub-consciously' -to quote my learned friend Lord Hutton - seeking to please his master.
More and more people are now calling for a Civil Service Act. One can understand why the government is dragging its feet: it makes life much easier if it can rely on the machinery of state to keep quiet and do its political bidding. Civil Servants are so used to being 'owned' by the government of the day that few of them can readily distinguish the public's interest from that of the government. We saw it at the time of the Scott Report; we have seen it again in the emails carrying us to a second Iraqi debacle.
The fourth power covers the conclusion of treaties and the conduct of foreign policy generally
This is something I know about first-hand. In my first job as a third secretary in the Foreign Office, I negotiated a treaty with the United States of America with precious little oversight from my superiors in the office, because none of them knew anything about the subject matter (liability for accidents involving nuclear powered merchant ships.) Once I had got the Foreign Secretary to sign it, I arranged for the precious document to be laid in the Library of the House of Commons where it sat untouched for three weeks and then came automatically into force. Without knowing it, I had exercised a prerogative power.
Foreign relations generally are handled by the government without reference to Parliament, although occasionally the government, which of course sets the parliamentary agenda, stages a debate to allow MPs to let off steam. The power to deploy the armed forces and to declare war can be seen as a sub-set of the foreign policy prerogative, but it is of course the most important power of all. It is certainly the one the public is by now most aware of.
Intriguingly it is also the power which is in the most danger of falling apart in this prime minister's hands. Blair deployed British armed forces to the Gulf under prerogative powers, without consulting anybody. He was then constitutionally able to declare war of his own bat. However the opposition was by then so strong that he felt obliged to put the question to Parliament. By doing so, he has probably set a precedent that neither he, nor his successors, will be able to ignore. The prerogative power has not been abolished but it may in future prove to be a dead letter.
Does all this matter?
Not, if like David Blunkett, you regard civil liberties as airy-fairy stuff. If, on the other hand, you believe, as I do, that our hard-won liberties underpin what passes for democracy in this country, we should not acquiesce quietly in a state of affairs that assumes that government always knows best and can impose its views on us through a Parliament condemned normally to play second fiddle to it.
Lord Hutton preferred to turn a blind eye to the tendency of all governments to become corrupted by the exercise of power. The rest of us would, I believe, do better to assume, that even the best-intentioned and righteous of prime ministers will become despotic unless kept in check. They are powerful enough already without being able to call on the archaic and unaccountable powers enshrined in the Prerogative.
One can see the RP either as a charming and harmless English eccentricity in the Lewis Carroll mode or as a potentially dangerous hangover from a pre-democratic age which is wholly incompatible with 21st century views of the proper relationship between governments and governed.
There are also hidden costs in a prerogative based system. By increasing the already great power of the prime minister, it also promotes centralisation of decision-making. By putting additional trump cards in the executive's hand it strengthens its hold over the legislature and insidiously demoralises the people's representatives in Parliament. What is the point of rebelling if you know the other side has a trump card up its sleeve? Why take an interest in foreign affairs and Britain's place in the world when you know that the government can legitimately disregard your views?
Perhaps the simplest way to understand how the prerogative operates is to see it as the default mode of government. When anything important needs to be done such as setting up yet another Inquiry into What Went Wrong, the automatic assumption is that number 10 will decide the form, choose the people, make the announcement and, of course, spin the outcome.
What's to be done?
Many politicians and even independent experts will argue that nothing much needs to be done because Prerogative powers are being steadily eroded by judicial review and in cases where they are being clearly misused Parliament can and sometimes does step in override them. I hope the PASC will not come to that comforting conclusion because it is not supported by the evidence.
The optimists have to surmount two basic hurdles. The first is the inherent limitation on the scope of judicial review. In the end judges can only review the decisions and actions of government that ministers through Parliament allow them. The second is the unreconstructible nature of government itself. Neither this government, nor any conceivable successor, is going to surrender voluntarily the freedom of action implicit in prerogative powers. It is hopelessly optimistic to suppose that our rulers will sit on their hands while the RP withers on the vine.
I found evidence to support this jaundiced view when I was researching the paper I submitted to the PASC last May. With no doubt sub-conscious irony the government buried it, in of all places, the 1998 Human Rights Act. A little background: using RP powers, the government can bypass the normal legislative process and introduce decrees called Orders-in-Council, which are not debated by Parliament. These decrees can only be made in areas, especially foreign affairs, covered by the prerogative. In the light of court rulings in the 1920s it came to be understood by all players that they rank as Secondary legislation which can always be over-ridden by Primary legislation i.e. an Act of Parliament. However, in the 1998 Human Rights Act the government has slipped in a sub-sub-sub-clause (Section 21(l)(f)(i)) defining primary legislation so as to include Orders-in-Council made in the exercise of Her Majesty's prerogative. The practical result is that ministers have discretion to ignore any declarations of incompatibility made by domestic UK courts or even by the European Court of Human Rights. One does not need to be a jurist to see that the constitutional implications are breath-taking: our present day government is seeking to turn the clock back a hundred years and reverse the steady encroachment on the scope of prerogative powers that has been the norm over the past two centuries.
No, we cannot trust governments to do the decent, democratic, thing of their own accord. We cannot afford to go on brushing the RP under the Crown's richly embroidered carpet. Something has to change. There are three basic options.
1. Do nothing, which for me is no longer an option
2. Continue slicing away at prerogative powers one by one as the occasion arises. But this would take a long time because the government of the day will always be fighting a rearguard action, and it will be very hard for Parliament to achieve and sustain a cross-party consensus to carry through a whole series of constitutional measures in the teeth of government obstruction.
3. Go the whole hog and legislate for the abolition of the RP in one Bill. I think this is Lib Dem policy. As far as I am concerned it is the only possible policy.
Many professional jurists would argue that the picture I have painted is biased and would not stand up in a court of law. But I am not trying to be fair. The British constitution is unbalanced and rooted in an adversarial approach both in law and in politics. The status quo has a long history as well as powerful defenders and will not be changed by the weighing of nice points of law. As long as these anachronistic powers exist Britain can never become a true democracy. They are the apron strings that bind us to our mediaeval playground and if, as a society, we want to grow up and join the modern world we shall have to summon the courage to sever them. Are we ready for such a momentous step? Thanks to the invasion of Iraq, we might just be. It would be most ironic if Mr Blair's crowning achievement turned out to be the fatal weakening of his over-mighty power base.
Footnote: The Attorney-General, the officer Mr Blair consulted about the legality of pre-emptive invasion of sovereign states, in response to a question by Lord Hooson, told Parliament in February when war was in the offing that: "the conduct of foreign affairs and defence policy are matters that fall within the Royal Prerogative. It would therefore be lawful and constitutional for the government, in exercising the Royal Prerogative, to make a declaration of war or to engage United Kingdom forces in military action without the prior approval of Parliament.
A list of surviving Prerogative powers
In domestic affairs:
- Appointment and dismissal of ministers
- Summoning, prorogation and dissolution of Parliament
- Commissioning of officers in the armed forces
- Direction and disposition of armed forces in the UK
- Appointment of QCs and the administration of justice
- Prerogative of mercy
- Issue and withdrawal of passports
- Granting of honours
- Creation of corporations by Charter
- Immunity of Sovereign from prosecution
- Regulation of the Civil Service
- Public appointments
- Running of the Royal Navy
- Acquisition of territory (e.g. Rockall)
- Immunity from planning requirements for government departments
- Exemption from tax for the Sovereign and government departments
- Granting of franchises, including the right to hold markets and fairs
- Collection of tolls from bridges or ferries
- Issue of coinage
- Rights over sturgeons, whales and some swans
In foreign affairs:
- Making of treaties and conduct of foreign policy
- Declaration of war
- Deployment of armed forces overseas
- Recognition of foreign states
- accreditation and reception of diplomats
- appointment of ambassadors and senior officials
- government of Dependent Territories through Governors
William III's list of reserved powers
- to choose his own ministers
- to make his own policy (especially foreign policy and the right to declare war)
- to influence opinion in Parliament by means of elections and patronage
David Gladstone's submission to the Select Committee on Public Administration, May 2003
You can read David Gladstone's paper to the PASC and other associated documents at:
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