David Lloyd George was Winston Churchill’s friend, political partner and sometimes adversary, and one of the few figures whose accomplishments rivals Churchill’s own. In his long political career Lloyd George was a radical reformer who brought in the People’s Budget and defeated the House of Lords; a senior cabinet member in the first years of World War One; the prime minister who “won the war;” a drafter of the Treaty of Versailles which created the League of Nations, and the negotiator of the Irish treaty. Balanced against these accomplishments he was a virtual bigamist who cheated on both his wife and mistress and largely alienated his children; bore responsibility for the destruction of the Liberal Party; cynically took positions for political gain; failed to dominate the British generals and admirals during the war; traded honours (peerages, knighthoods) for cash for his personal fund; cheerfully met Hitler in 1936; and was a defeatist during World War Two.
Lloyd George’s complex life and career are evaluated in Lloyd George: Statesman or Scoundrel by Richard Wilkinson (author of Louis XIV). In his study the author judiciously considers his answer to the question posed in the sub-title, duly crediting Lloyd George for his many successes, while calling him “a disgrace to Liberalism” for his treatment of women and declares that along with Douglas Haig he deserves the title of “the Butcher of Passchendaele.” While Wilkinson, perhaps, underrates the difficulties Lloyd George faced in removing Haig from command and preventing the slaughter of the 1917 offensive, he does make an interesting comparison to the courage of President Truman in firing General Douglas MacArthur in 1951. In sum, Wilkinson concludes that “Yes, he had faults, but they were outweighed by achievements.”
Lloyd George: Statesman or Scoundrel is an excellent study that fairly evaluates its subject. Although the overuse of some phrases in the text (such as “to be fair”) is distracting, the study is a highly readable and engaging one-volume account of the man Lord Beaverbrook said was not as great as Churchill but was “more fun.”