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Remembered Today:

"David Lloyd George - The Great Outsider" Roy Hattersley


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"David Lloyd George - The Great Outsider" Roy Hattersley

Abacus 2012. 709pp of which 640 are narrative.

This is a book I approached with some trepidation and not a few pre-conceptions about the subject.

I have dabbled before in DLGs auto-biographical 'War Memoirs' and, being interested in radical politics and British Imperialism, have had cause to read some of his speeches and general narrative about the man. My broad perceptions were of a man of political and personal vanity who put self before both Party and family but,none-the-less, was a great and innovative Chancellor of the Exchequer who's policies and principles gave birth to the welfare state. As a wartime Prime Minister I believed that he was the best option available as a leader (being neither Asquith, Bonar Law nor Churchill) in much the same way I view Haig as the best option available as Commander-in-Chief (something Hattersley asserts that DLG also came to believe - not so sure this is proven though).

My first observation about the book is that it is essentially a political biography, written by a politician and interested, predominantly, in matters political. DLG's roots are well covered but his wife and children (all keenly political in their own way) remain poorly drawn and somewhat cliched in reference. His long term mistress, secretary and second wife, Francis Stevenson, is portrayed to greater effect but none of them leap off the page with any degree of verve or depth. Too much of the book is given over to the processes of parliamentary procedure and the progress of doomed white papers that wither on the vine. Relevant though each may be, the sheer bulk ultimately weighs down the pace of the book - editorial pruning should have applied to greater and more selective degree.

It's a shame.

DLG is colourful and the speeches and chronology of ascent are well served. Hattersley is both lucid and clear about his man - this is no hagiography and there is no central thesis of apology or reflective justification; Lloyd is clearly portrayed as a politically faithless (and I choose this word very carefully) opportunistic gadfly routinely defined by what he is against rather than what he is for. What he was consistently for is well covered - land reform, disestablishment of the CofE in Wales, pension and insurance reform - but what he is against is the force that drives both him and the book. Too often what he was once for he becomes against and what he was aginst he becomes for - Home rule, tariff reform, free trade, the autonomy of small nations, German reparations, tax reform etc etc. His political and personal friendships were equally subservient to the central aim of his pathological ambition. His was a mixed and muddled bag of objectives, limited by personal political expediency - never a coherent philosophy or ideology. Here Hattersley excells.

The book has scope. I was very impressed by DLG's Munitions role and my admiration of his Chancellorship was enhanced by this reading rather than diminished. His Premiership remains, as per my preconception, one of necessity and purposefulness throughout the war years. The price of his coalition was the sanctity of Haig's position but he still inveigled and Robertson took the fall.

The more I read the more drawn to the Easterner argument I become and here I do side with DLG - he sincerely believed it would have saved lives. Elsewhere, I had no idea quite how badly he handled the peace negotiations and I really do believe his ambition, and at times his corruptness and personal failings, led to the destruction of the Liberal Party as a political force with realistic ambition to govern. That he killed 'Gladstone' seems to be pretty much the case.

So the book

Very well written but too much procedure. Slow to read but thought provoking. Hattersley pretty much nails his conviction that DLG was a true radical but did he 'win the war' as Hattersley seems to obliquely allude ? Well, not to me by this account or any other.

A great orator, a rather shameless man.


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Thanks, for the excellent review. Might have chance to read this over the summer.


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