Posted by: Dr Pano Kroko Churchill | September 8, 2017

What Would Winston Churchill Do? (Chapter 30)

The years from 1908 to 1911 mark the phase in Winston Churchill’s life when he reached his zenith as a Liberal, a Radical, a Reformer, and an Isolationist.

During this period Lloyd George and Winston Churchill were the two most controversial and publicized figures on the political stage. Both were loyal
friends, both were men of genius, both were possible and probable Prime
Ministers. Which of these two colleagues and rivals would reach the
highest office first? Max Beerbohm drew a cartoon showing the pair
standing on the terrace of the House of Commons fingering a coin:
Winston Churchill : ‘Come, suppose we toss for it, Davey.’
Mr Lloyd George: Ah, but, Winnie, would either of us as loser abide by the result?’

Although the public saw the two friends as men of almost equal stature,
behind the scenes the relationship was that of the master and the pupil.
Lloyd George was the dominating force and wielded an unquestioned
authority. First of all he was eleven years older which gave him a natural
advantage. Second, he knew how to enthral the younger man with his
humour and sparkling personality. Winston Churchill not only admired the Welsh-
man’s spell-binding, facile oratory but he was fascinated by the provoca-
tive, radical ideas which had not been assimilated from books but were
part of Lloyd George’s very being. Now that Winston Churchill had convinced himself that Lord Randolph Churchill’s liberal mind had saved the hopelessly reactionary Tories from political extinction, and that if Lord Randolph had lived he would undoubtedly have been a Radical like Winston Churchill himself, he was willing to turn from the guidance of his father’s memory and accept a new leader. And Lloyd George was the man he chose to follow.

This exciting friendship aroused all his competitive instincts. The idea of
social reform caught his imagination and dominated his thoughts.
Characteristically, once his enthusiasm had been aroused, he could talk of
nothing else. Charles Masterman, a close friend and a Liberal colleague,
wrote to his wife on 12 February, 1908: ‘Winston swept me off to his
cousin’s house and I lay on the bed while he dressed and marched about
the room gesticulating and impetuous, pouring out all his hopes and plans
and ambitions. He is full of the poor whom he has just discovered. He
thinks he is called by providence to do something for them. “Why have
I always been kept safe within a hair’s breadth of death,” he asked, “ex-
cept to do something like this? I’m not going to live long,” was also his
refrain. He is getting impatient; although he says he can wait. I challenged
him once on his exposition of his desire to do something for the people.
“You can’t deny that you enjoy it all immensely the speeches, the
crowds, the sense of increasing power.” “Of course I do,” he said. “Thou
shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. That shall be my
plea at the day of judgment.” He is just an extraordinarily gifted boy, with
genius and astonishing energy. I always feel of immense age when I am
with him though he’s only a year younger than I am. “Sometimes I feel
as though I could lift the whole world on my shoulders,” he said last
night.’

Lloyd George was Winston’s inspiration, but at the same time the
young man was eager to impress the Welshman with his own originality
and ability and show him in friendly rivalry that he could outdo him at bis
own game. When he took over the Board of Trade from Lloyd George in
1908 he is said to have remarked: I have got this pie too late. L.G. has
pulled out all the plums.’ It was true that Lloyd George had made a great
reputation for himself during the preceding two years. He had put the
Patents Act on the statute books; he had pushed through the Merchant
Shipping Bill which raised standards of food and accommodation for the
seamen; he had nationalized London’s chaotic private dock companies and
welded them together into the Port of London Authority; and he had
successfully intervened in a railway dispute and averted a national strike.
His actions had won applause from both sides of the House.

Winston Churchill was not the sort of man to sit back and sigh for triumphs that
had been won by someone else. He set about looking for his own plums,
even if they happened to be in other people’s pies. He fastened on two
important reforms. One was in the ‘sweated industries’. There had been
much talk about these industries in which slum dwellers, mostly women,
worked fantastically long hours for little pay, unprotected by Trade
Unions or Factory Acts. Charles Booth had printed unpleasant statistics on
the subject in his Life and Labour in London, and Sir Charles Dilke, a
Radical M.P., had suggested the establishment of ‘trade boards’ composed
of an impartial committee to determine minimum wages and hours in each
industry. But the Home Office, to whom the subject belonged, refused to
do anything about it. Winston Churchill saw his chance, grabbed the idea and drove
a Trade Boards Act through Parliament. The system proved a great
success and was steadily expanded. [C. F. G. Masterman: Lucy Masterman] His second reform was in the field of unemployment. Beatrice and
Sidney Webb, the Fabian leaders, had suggested some time before that a
system of Labour Exchanges should be Established so that people out of
work could find new jobs. The Local Government Board to whom they
appealed was not interested and once again Churchill saw his chance. He
borrowed the idea and established Labour Exchanges.

It seems strange today to think of Winston Churchill working in close coopera-
tion with Beatrice and Sidney Webb, those astonishing, statistically minded, super intellectuals who converted the Trade Unions to their own
particular brand of Fabian Socialism and thus fashioned the soul of the
present Labour Party. Beatrice was a tall, handsome blue-stocking and
Sidney was a little man with a huge head and small, tapering body which
his wife said was the ‘delight of caricaturists. The letters they exchanged
during their courtship are famous for their solemn comments on social
investigation; and they appropriately spent their honeymoon in Glasgow
looking up Trade Union records.

The Webbs were the great experts on social reform. They wrote the
standard works on Trade Unionism, Industrial Democracy and the Co-
operative Movement. They scintillated with ideas for new reforms which
they gladly proffered to progressive politicians and which progressive
politicians gladly accepted. They were not the sort of people, however,
whom one would single out for a jolly evening. When Asquith suggested
that Winston Churchill should take charge of the Local Government Board he is
said to have declined, announcing that he did not wish ‘to be shut up in a
soup kitchen with Mrs Sidney Webb. Nevertheless he recognized the
Webbs as experts; and for experts he had a high regard. Evidence of his
respect for Mrs Webb may be gleaned from the latter’s diary. On 3 Octo-
ber, 1908, she wrote: “Winston Churchill and his wife dined here the other night
to meet a party of young Fabians. He is taking on the look of the mature
statesman bon vivant and orator, somewhat in love with his own phrases.
… In the course of the evening he took a fancy to my organizing secretary,
Colegate, and told him to apply to the Board of Trade. . . . Winston
Churchill said that anyone, if really recommended “on my honour”, he
would take on.

Thus with Lloyd George supplying the inspiration and the Webbs the
guidance, Winston Churchill threw all his energies into the field of social reform.
Mrs Webb’s opinion of this energetic and overpowering young man had
changed greatly since she first met him in 1903. No doubt she was in-
fluenced by the fact that now he was a Radical ‘He is brilliantly able not
a phrase-monger, I think . . .’ she wrote. And although she conceded that
Lloyd George was a ‘clever fellow’ she thought that he liad ‘less intellect
than Winston, and not such an attractive personality more of the
preacher, less of the statesman.’

Winston’s activities did not stop with the Board of Trade. In 1910 he
was transferred to the Home Office where he at once interested himself in
prison reform. He believed that prisoners should have libraries, lectures
and entertainments. He succeeded in establishing his ideas and thus started
a ball rolling which has continued to roll far. His humane attitude towards
prisoners sprang from first-hand knowledge of what confinement was
like. ‘I certainly hated every minute of my captivity more than I have
ever hated any other period in my whole life,’ he wrote in My Early Life.
‘Looking back on those days I have always felt the keenest pity for
prisoners and captives. What it must mean for any man, especially an
educated man, to be confined for years in a modern convict prison strains
my imagination. Each day exactly like the one before, with the barren
ashes of wasted life behind, and the long years of bondage stretching
out ahead. Therefore in after years, when I was Home Secretary and had
all the prisons of England in my charge, I did my utmost, consistent with
public policy, to introduce some sort of variety and indulgence into the
life of their inmates, to give to educated minds books to feed on, to give
to all periodical entertainments of some sort to look forward to and to
look back upon, and to mitigate as far as is reasonable the hard lot which,
if they have deserved, they must nonetheless endure.’

Winston’s magnanimous and warm-hearted nature was often deeply
stirred by the prisoners under his control. The fact that the Home Secre-
tary had the authority to quash or confirm a death sentence was a tor-
ment to him. He was always torn with pity. He told Wilfrid Blunt how
it had become a nightmare to him the having to exercise his power of life
and death in the case of condemned criminals, on an average of one case a
fortnight. . . . The Home Secretary can go into a prison and on his sole
authority can order a release, which if once notified to a prisoner cannot
be changed afterwards by any power in England. He had several times
done this, and just before leaving the office he had ordered a number of
remissions of sentences, notwithstanding the protests of the judges in the
case. He spoke of these cases with emotion, and giving us all particulars.’

The vibration of Winston’s energy shook the Home Office as it had the
Board of Trade before, and was so far reaching that it penetrated to the
most obscure civil servants of the Department. Everyone was aware that a
new master had arrived. Some of Winston’s ideas were good and some
were bad, but there was never a shortage of them. Sir E. Troup, the
Permanent Secretary of the Home Office, wrote: ‘There is no period of
my time at the Home Office of which I have pleasanter recollections than
when Winston Churchill was my chief and Mr Charles Masterman his parliamentary lieutenant. Once a week, and sometimes more often, Winston Churchill came down to the office bringing with him some adventurous and impossible projects: but after half an hour’s discussion something was evolved which was still adventurous, but no longer impossible.’

However, some of Winston’s colleagues found his constant flood of
opinions, and his obsession with whatever he himself was doing, annoy-
ingly egotistical. Mrs Lucy Masterman recorded in her diary as early as
March 1908 a conversation which she had with Sir Edward Grey, the
Foreign Secretary, and Augustine Birrell, the Minister of Education, ‘I
forget whose phrase was, but they agreed that the tendency in him to
see first the rhetorical potentialities of any policy was growing and becom-
ing a real intellectual and moral danger. “I think we are a very forbearing
Cabinet to his chatter,” Birrell said. . . . “First time I met him we didn’t
know each other. We were early for a dinner party, he picked up a book
and said “Matthew Arnold’s poems; Who is Matthew Arnold? Do you
know anything about Matthew Arnold?” I said yes, he wrote poetry, etc.,
etc. “Oh,” said Winston Churchill shaking his fist, “this public school education. If I ever get my chance at it!” Contrast a remark he made the other evening after he had been lecturing Sir Edward on foreign politics: “The
longer I live, the more certain I am I know all there is to be known.” Sir
Edward said: “Winston, very soon, will become incapable, from sheer
activity of mind, of being anything in a Cabinet but Prime Minister.” ‘

While Churchill was pushing through his departmental reforms, he was
also playing an even more important role on the great, national, centre-
stage where the real drama of the years 1908 to 1911 was taking place.
The scenery was floodlit, the play well-advertised and public attention
was soon captured. Lloyd George was not only author of the play but the
star as well, and Winston Churchill took the part of the bright young support who occasionally stole the show.

The drama began when Lloyd George succeeded Asquith as Chancellor
of the Exchequer in 1908. Asquith had instituted Old Age Pensions, but
Lloyd George was left to find the money for them. Besides this, more
money was needed for building new dreadnoughts in the armaments race
against Germany. Lloyd George’s pacifism and Winston Churchill’s faithful adherence to his father’s views led them both to resist the proposed increase.
While the Welshman ridiculed the idea of building ships ‘against nightmares’ Winston Churchill assured a gathering that Germany had ‘nothing to fight
about, no prize to fight for, and no place to fight in’. However, it was
plain that Conservative alarm, expressed by the cry: ‘We want eight, and
we won’t wait’, was arousing widespread public support. Mr McKenna,
the First Lord of the Admiralty, fought Lloyd George and Churchill in
the Cabinet and told them if he could not have his ships he was prepared
to resign. He won the battle and the building of the dreadnoughts began.

Since Lloyd George regarded the Navy as a Tory stage prop, and
believed that it was mainly ‘the rich’ who were agitating for more ships, he
decided that they would have to pay for them; and pay for the Old Age
Pensions as well. The conception of the Budget not only as a means of re-
dressing the balance of wealth at the expense of the ruling class was a
brilliant new idea which fully appealed to his Radical instincts. And there is no doubt that the scales needed tipping. ‘The inequalities in those days
were glaring enough and attention was being focused on them,’ writes one
historian. ‘A popular writer on economic subjects had recently published
a widely read little book comparing the distribution of wealth in the
United Kingdom and France, from which it appeared, according to official
statistics in both countries, that in France there were twice as many small
estates ranging from 500 to 10,000 as in the United Kingdom, but in
the United Kingdom three times as many estates over 50,000 and four
times as many over 250,000, the population of the two countries being
approximately the same. The redressing of such inequalities was, from
Lloyd George’s point of view, the most obvious method of securing
popular support.

This was not the only reason that prompted Lloyd George to produce a
budget aimed at the upper classes. Looming large on the horizon was the
increasing hostility between the Liberals and the Lords. Lord Lansdowne,
the Conservative Leader in the Lords, was working in close concert with
Arthur Balfour, the Conservative Leader in the Commons. Since the
Upper House was overwhelmingly Tory, and all legislation had to win
the approval of both Houses before becoming law, the Lords were able to
block whatever Liberal Bills they wished, despite a huge Liberal majority.
In two and a half years they had wrecked three Education Bills; a Licens-
ing Bill; and a Scottish Land Valuation Bill Churchill had burst out
vehemently against them and Lloyd George had declared that the House
of Lords had ‘ceased to be the watchdog of the Constitution, and had
become “Mr Balfour’s poodle”; it barks for him; it fetches and carries for
him; it bites anybody that he sets it on to.’

Lloyd George convinced Churchill that the time had come to have a
show-down with the Upper House. But they must be careful of their
issue for it was apparent from the by-elections that Liberal popularity was
slumping badly because of the war scare. Churchill paid a long visit to
Lloyd George at his home in Criccieth in September 1908, and most his-
torians assume that they planned their strategy at this time. If they could
publicize the Budget and make it appear really ferocious, they might
succeed in provoking the Lords to fall into the trap of rejecting it.

Although Lloyd George and Winston Churchill both denied that they had ever devised any such ingenious plan, contemporary diaries reveal that at least the possibilities occurred to them. Mrs Lucy Masterman describes Lloyd George discussing the prospects of the Budget in the Lords and quotes him as saying: Tm not sure we ought to pray for it to go through. I’m not sure we ought not to hope for its rejection. It would give us such a
chance as we will never have again.’ Another prominent figure of the
day, Wilfrid Blunt, quotes Churchill talking along the same lines.
Winston Churchill gave us a very full account of what his policy in the Budget dispute with the Lords would be. He began by saying that his hope and prayer was that they would throw out the Bill, as it would save the
Government from a certain defeat if the elections were put off. . . .’

The thoughts of the two men were not only revealed in private conver-
sations but were hinted at in public speeches. In December 1908 Lloyd
George declared: ‘We cannot consent to accept the present humiliating
conditions of legislating by the sufferance of Lord Lansdowne. This noble-
man has arrogated to himself a position he has usurped a sovereignty no
King has claimed since the ominous days of Charles I. Decrees are issued
from Lansdowne House that Buckingham Palace would not dream of
sending forth. We are not going to stand any longer the usurpation of
King Lansdowne and his Royal consort in the Commons.’ Winston
Churchill spoke even more plainly: ‘For my part, I should be quite con-
tent to see the battle joined as speedily as possible upon the plain issue of
aristocratic rule against representative government, between the reversion
to Protection and the maintenance of Free Trade, between a tax on bread
and a tax on well, never mind.’

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 12.33.04 PM

At last the great day came. Lloyd George took four hours to deliver his
Budget speech to the House of Commons. Churchill watched him like
an anxious nannie; there was a short break halfway through and he took
him out for refreshments. Judged by today’s standards the Budget was a
small affair. It showed an increase of only eleven per cent on the revenue
of the previous year. The fact that it had to be approved by a Cabinet
which did not have a Radical majority must be some indication that even
at the time it was not regarded by lawmakers as revolutionary. Income-
tax was steepened on incomes over 3,000 a year from is. 1d to is. 2d. in
the pound; whisky was raised from ss. 6d. to 45. a bottle; a tax was im-
posed for the first time on petrol and motor cars; and there was a tax on
licensed premises. The particular tax designed to hit the rich was the
introduction of super-tax which amounted to 6d, in the pound on incomes
over 5,000 a year. This measure affected only 11,500 people. But it
meant that the highest incomes in the country were now subject to a full
tax of is. 8d. in the pound. Today this seems a modest demand, yet it
amounted to an increase of 66% over the rate of the previous year.
Besides this, death duties were raised, there was a tax on undeveloped
land, and another tax on ‘the unearned increment of land 9 or, in other
words, on the increase in the value of land.

At first the Budget did not provoke any great remonstrance. But since
Lloyd George wished to provoke the House of Lords he soon began mak-
ing violent public speeches in which he drew a sharp distinction between
the wealthy businessmen and the wealthy landowners. The wealthy
businessmen were all right. They worked for their money, while the
wealthy landowners merely sat back and demanded it. The landowners,
he declared, squeezed everyone, whether for coal royalties, building de-
velopments, or household rents. They were the enemies of the entire
nation; of artisans and manufacturers, of engineers and merchants
alike.

The reason why Lloyd George concentrated on the landowners was
obvious; first, he had learned to hate them from childhood, and second,
they composed the largest dement in the House of Lords. He singled out
peers for special attack on every possible occasion. Lord Rothschild made
a speech protesting against the Budget at a meeting in the City of London.
‘We are having too much of Lord Rothschild, retorted Lloyd George
the following day. ‘We are not to have temperance reform in this
country. Why? Because Lord Rothschild has sent a circular to the Peers to
say so. We must have more dreadnoughts. Why? Because Lord Rothschild has told us so at a meeting in the City. We must not pay for them when we have got them. Why? Because Lord Rothschild says NO.
You must not have an estate duty and a super-tax. Why? Because Lord Roths-
child has sent a protest on behalf of the bankers to say he won’t stand it.
You must not have a tax on reversions. Why? Because Lord Rothschild
as chairman of an insurance company said he wouldn’t stand it. You must
not have a tax on undeveloped land. Why? Because Lord Rothschild is
chairman of an industrial housing company. You must not have Old Age
Pensions. Why? Because Lord Rothschild was a member of a Com-
mittee that said it couldn’t be done. Arc we really to have all the ways of
reform, financial and social, blocked by a notice board: “No thoroughfare: By order of Nathaniel Rothschild”?’

However, it was on the dukes that Lloyd George concentrated the full
fury of his attack. The dukes were not merely the heads of the peerage;
they were the largest landowners in Britain. To critics who accused him of
driving capital out of the country, he answered that it was a lie and pointed
to figures which proved that imports and exports were steadily increasing.
‘Only one stock has gone down badly; there has been a great slump in
dukes.’ ‘A fully-equipped duke,’ he declared, ‘costs as much to keep up as
two dreadnoughts; and dukes are just as great a terror and the) last
longer.’ Lloyd George delighted his audience by describing a nobleman’s
son as ‘the first of the litter’ and by attacking the nobleman because ‘he has
one man to fix his collar and adjust his tie in the morning, a couple of men
to carry a boiled egg to him at breakfast, a fourth man to open the door for
him, a fifth man to show him in and out of his carriage, and a sixth and
seventh to drive him.

Meantime Winston Churchill was not idle. He too was touring the
country making speeches and arousing as much feeling as possible. It is
interesting to compare his technique with that of Lloyd George.

Lloyd George’s shafts were bubbling with humour; comic, vulgar, with the
sure mass appeal of the variety turn.

Winston’s were more solemn, more reasoned, more dignified.

Lloyd George was the demagogue and Winston Churchill was the statesman.

To be continued:


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