Review: Welsh Wizardry – when a humble solicitor trumped a posh barrister to lead Liberal Britain

Review: Welsh Wizardry – when a humble solicitor trumped a posh barrister to lead Liberal Britain

In cinematic style, this study launches with a prologue describing a major speech of Lloyd George shortly after the outbreak of the Great War.

That great event seems to have epitomised the expedient rallying call by the master of the genre in an unexpected war, or at least a war at an unexpected point.

The general context was that Liberal politics was dominated by Henry Asquith and Lloyd George, and the two are often compared and contrasted.

Asquith had gone on a scholarship to study Classics at Balliol College, Oxford and then become president of the Oxford Union. He practised as a barrister and showed a formidable intellect.

Lloyd George had served articles with a provincial firm and qualified as a solicitor and his experience of the law was of a practical nature. He was in the phrase of the time “a man of business”.

Asquith was sturdy and induced admiration but he was not a spellbinder who aroused the emotion of individuals and crowds as Lloyd George did.

Asquith said little in Cabinet if he could get away with it, and he sat silently as if he was a judge, which is what his training had been for.

Indeed, Lloyd George himself said that Asquith given a brief would give ‘a splendid opinion on agreed facts’, but he lacked initiative and managerial competence in holding government departments together.

It has to be said that some of their contemporaries thought Lloyd George was a windbag and unscrupulous, but he himself said that there are no real friendships at the top in politics, and he described that as a cynical but true observation.

Perhaps the comments about Asquith ought not to be overdone, as this study is concerned with the advance of Lloyd George to the premiership, and his loss of it after the war.
The author, while writing this book, was an MP and doubtless that experience assisted him to see the dramatic, forceful nature of the rhetoric and decisions that informed politics.

While some studies end with Armistice, or deal with the interwar years separately, Rivals in the Storm illuminates parliamentary politics from the start of the Great War, through to the aftermath as a continuous struggle until Lloyd George was out of office.

The people and events in this history are all familiar but by focusing on the progress and failures of Lloyd George alone a different perspective is offered. This is a notable contribution to the literature of the era.

Rivals in the Storm: How Lloyd George seized power, won the war and lost his government by Damian Collins. Published by Bloomsbury Continuum, 368pp, £22.50.

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