Flawed Hero – David Lloyd George
I first found out about David Lloyd George from my nana; she was a font of political songs – and “Lloyd George knew my Father” was one of them.
At school, we learned he was a working class boy – who was brought up by his Uncle Lloyd in Llanystumdwy, He was articled to a law firm in Porthmadog at the age of 15; became an MP at 27 and was responsible for some of the most radical and socially aware legislation of all time. As Chancellor of the Exchequer he introduced Old Age Pensions and National Insurance; took on the House of Lords to get the People’s Budget of 1909 passed; and, of course, became the Prime Minister who won the First World War for Britain.
Learning about his private life – was not done at school; that came from the Life and Times of David Lloyd George a fabulous BBC Wales production starring the inestimable Philip Madoc – even though he had more of a welsh accent than Lloyd George. And instead of being disappointed that my political hero had feet of clay, it made him – somehow – more heroic.
The fact he was flawed; that he was an outsider who didn’t fit in with the privilege of Westminster – made it so much better. I loved the fact that he was distrusted by the Establishment; that he was prepared to sell peerages and use his foreknowledge as a Minister of the Crown to profit from the sale of Marconi shares. I loved the fact that he’d never have been successful in our times – where sexual peccadilloes (what a lovely Victorian phrase) end a political career; because there’s no way the late 20th Century press could have kept quiet about Frances Stephenson. Or indeed the rumours of other women.
As always, when it came to Historical visits, it was me who dragged my parents to Llanistumdwy all those years ago, just like it was me who dragged OH there today.
The museum is well worth a visit, as is the film narrated by Philip Madoc which you see after you’ve done the museum. Then you have a choice – either walk over the road to the grave or go around to the house. We did the house then the grave.
It was an eye opener to see how small Highlands – his boyhood home is. Lloyd George claimed to be a cottage boy and indeed he was. Highlands is a two up two down. He, his mum, sister and younger brother shared two beds in the larger room. Uncle Lloyd had the other smaller room. His Uncle’s workshop was attached to the house. Downstairs there’s a kitchen/ parlour and study – complete with table and two school desks (of the kind us oldies had.) You can swing a cat in both rooms – but I wouldn’t like to try.
This makes him the first working class Prime Minister. After all, how many politicians can claim that their Uncle was a boot-maker; that they were part of a one parent family, and that they went to the local village school? Even Attlee’s background was more privileged. Perhaps the only nearest comparison is Aneurin Bevan (who was a coal miner before becoming a politician.) But he never became Prime Minister.
After the house, we went over the road to the grave. It’s so simple, unassuming. And in the fall out and controversy surrounding Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, so Ironic! This was a man who clearly did so much for ordinary people, and he was buried after a simple village funeral (ok with over a thousand mourners) overlooking the River without a headstone or proclamation of his achievements to astound future generations. If you don’t speak Welsh, you don’t even know what the plaque on the outside of his grave actually says…
And the translation of his gravestone?
The Grave of David Lloyd George (Earl Dwyfor)
“The rough stone, stone of his heart, is the grave of a man who was a hero to his people; a beauteous watercolour is the merry Dwyfor, t’will ever caress his grave.” The words come from his nephew who died on 20th November 2006 at the age of 94