This is my review of Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness by Richard Toye.
This for the most part very readable analysis of the surprising and complex “friendship” between two major political figures keeps to the point and, unlike many historical accounts summarises the key aspects of events very clearly, helping the reader to see the wood for the trees.
Lloyd George and Churchill lived through an unusually interesting and significant period: on an international scale, two world wars, the Russian Revolution, decline of the Turkish Empire, establishment of Israel, question of independence for India, to name a few. At home, there was the partition of Ireland, the attempts to reform the Lords, the rise of Labour, split and demise of the Liberals, attempts at coalition, votes for women, and first serious measures to provide pensions and unemployment benefit, leading to the creation of the welfare state. It is salutary to realise how many of these issues still remain to be resolved. The shifting relationships within the various coalitions seem very topical now. One should also mention the growing power and influence of the press barons – Northcliffe and Rothermere.
Against this background, which in many ways interested me most, we see the saga of the personal relationship between Churchill and Lloyd George. Initially the latter was “top dog”, a man whom Churchill admired, sought to emulate and surpass, and often relied upon, both as a means of getting office, and also as something of a mentor and emotional support. Largely because of the age difference, the tables were turned in World War 2: Churchill became the leader with power to offer Lloyd George a cabinet post, but the latter was “past it” – age having taken the edge off his ambition, and rendering him so pragmatic and “amenable to reason” that he seemed too much of an appeaser. For much of their political careers, both were widely despised and scorned as over-ambitious political troublemakers and schemers, although there was clearly a good deal of entertaining plotting and gossip from other quarters as well. Yet both seemed to have an energy and vision which were wasted when they were out of power.
Richard Toye has clearly set out to change the balance in modern public perception, which tends to revere Churchill more highly as the greater statesman, as exemplified by the dominance of his statue over Lloyd George’s at the Commons. Thus he consistently portrays Lloyd George as the subtler thinker and negotiator, more genuinely interested in social reform, not to mention his humour, charm and wit, whereas Churchill comes across as courageous to the point of foolhardiness, but a loose cannon, John “bull in the china shop”, whose reputation has been unduly inflated by his success as a rock-like war leader in the 1940s.
I recommend this biography with only two caveats: the passages quoting recollections of someone quoting someone quoting someone else are sometimes hard to follow, or tedious, plus for pages on end there are often references to the months when events occurred, but too few reminders of the year in question! Inevitably, Toye has left out a good deal of detail, but the rationale is his focus on the relationship between these two rivals.