Quote of the Day: David Lloyd George

Should 500 men, ordinary men chosen accidentally from among the unemployed, override the judgment — the deliberate judgment — of millions of people who are engaged in the industry which makes the wealth of the country?

–David Lloyd George in an 1909 speech given in Newcastle in which he blasted the House of Lords for opposing property taxes.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

8 thoughts on “Quote of the Day: David Lloyd George”

  1. It is poorly known today that Britain was on the very razor’s edge of civil war in the summer of 1914 — when World War I broke out and riveted everyone’s attention on a larger context. The proximate cause was Ireland, but the brutal political struggle over the Parliament Bill 1911 had frayed the fabric of the polity beyond repair. The classic text for the period is of course George Dangerfield, “The Strange Death of Liberal England”. Roy Jenkins’s biography of Asquith is worth reading in counterpoint.

    1. Thanks, Frank, for that helpful piece of context. Do you happen to know what was the status of the veto power of the House of Lords at the time of that speech? I understand that it was eroded over a period of time and that MPs like Lloyd George were instrumental in curtailing their political power.

      Also, and somewhat relevant to our own times, it is said that social reformers like him, who ameliorated the dire distress of England’s workers, were also instrumental in preventing a more radical uprising; to prevent the peasants from taking up pitchforks, it is prudent for the ruling class to bring about moderate changes like social insurance and economic safety nets. Do you think that the quoted speech fits into this framework?

      1. Prior to 1909, a long-standing convention applied, whereby the Lords’ “veto” (exercised by adding amendments that were intended to be unacceptable to the Commons) was not exercised against the Budget. LG’s 1909 Budget was the first to be vetoed. The Government’s response was to begin drafting a Parliament Bill that would give the Commons the ability to override the Lords’ veto — NOT by supermajority, but by repetition. Legislation (even “ordinary”, i.e. non-fiscal, legislation) could be vetoed by the Lords upon its first presentation and again upon its second, but if the Commons passed it a third time, the Lords must not attempt to amend it. Note that there was no effort to embody the Budget convention, per se, in the Parliament Bill.

        The Parliament Bill was itself so controversial that King Edward VII demanded the government prove its legitimacy by a general election (in effect, performing the function of a referendum). The Liberals did not get an independent majority at the first 1910 election, then King Edward died, and his successor George V demanded another election, which gave a similar result. Had the Lords attempted to veto the Parliament Bill in the 1911 session, the King would have had to grant several hundred Peerages, to individuals designated by the Government, in order to dilute the disproportionate representation of Conservatives in the Lords. No one wanted that to happen, so the Lords gave in — with the worst possible grace. This is all a hideous oversimplification; go read Dangerfield.

        As to LG trying to defuse revolutionary sentiment, I am inclined to doubt that he had any such intent, for two reasons. Firstly, the whole controversy was largely within the ruling elite. Secondly, the Lords’ veto of the 1909 Budget left everyone scrambling to think through what might happen next; it was a sharp and shocking violation of established norms and left both sides on the back foot. LG was later famous as an inventor of ingenious compromises, but the Limehouse speech (which is what we have been quoting from) does not breathe a spirit of compromise.

        1. Thanks again, Frank. This is what the RBC is at its best, where you can ask someone a question and get a well-informed answer. Not too many blogs about which that can be said.

          My dominant impressions of the period come from PBS’s “Upstairs, Downstairs” where Lady Marjorie says, “That thief, Lloyd George,” before being sent off on the Titanic and exiting the series.

          Period dramas from that time had three opportunities to bump off cast members: one on the Titanic, another in the Great War, and another in the Great Influenza.

          1. For almost thirty years, from about 1885 until a few days before the outbreak of the Great War, the subtext of everything in British politics was Ireland. Every faction’s position on every issue was merely a proxy for their position on Ireland. (Another deeply suggestive parallel with our own time and place, when nothing is really about what it purports to be about.) The battle over the Parliament Bill was another such proxy battle, but it exploded a consensus within the ruling elite that had been operating for at least eighty years, arguably longer.

            The position in the summer of 1914 was that the military, incited by the Conservative Party, had begun to refuse orders. There is no way to put a shiny coat of varnish on *that* . The key figure was Sir Edward Carson. Really, go read.

  2. From the same speech, I think:

    “A fully equipped Duke costs as much to keep up as two Dreadnoughts, and Dukes are just as great a terror, and they last longer.”

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