Thursday, 12 July 2012

Britain's Most Radical Prime Minister

Georgie Boxall and Andrew Jones interview former Cabinet Minister and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Roy Hattersley, following his talk on the life and work of Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George, at the Portsmouth Festivities.

Roy Hattersley

 We should begin by asking what inspired you to write about David Lloyd George.  

Well, you write books for three reasons. One is that you are interested in the subject, two is that there is some material to work on and three is that your publisher thinks you can sell it. It’s a commercial operation; there’s no point writing a book that nobody buys. David Lloyd George is the great radical of British history. What he did as Chancellor of the Exchequer is the great radical moment in British history and was when we moved British politics to the left. He is the epitome of what his Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, said when he stood up in response to an opposition’s Oxford-style speech and said “Enough of this nonsense, it might have passed in the previous Parliament but not in this. We have work to do”. Lloyd George was that work. Also, he was a great outsider. I call him “the great outsider” and I’m interested in that because I think I am, myself, a bit of an outsider in the sense that I am not clubbable. I don’t necessarily like to go to the tea in the House of Lords or hang about in my club hoping to have lunch with someone I’ve not met before.

You mentioned in your speech that Lloyd George very much had an ethos of  working for the working man. Would you say that his own humble background had an effect on that?

Yes. Lloyd George’s background, which I didn’t have time to go into fully in the speech, is one in which the Welsh peasantry are being oppressed by landlords who are English. They are not only determined that they own the land but they don’t speak the language of the peasantry and they impose their wishes on the peasantry. The Church of England dominates religion in Wales because there was no Church of Wales at the time. So it’s a combination of nationality and class. David Lloyd George believed that he represented the Welsh peasantry.

Do you think that Lloyd George would have approved of the Liberal Democrat party of today?

David Lloyd George
(source: Guardian)
He would have approved of them scrabbling their way into government so he would have said that Nick Clegg was quite right to make any compromises necessary to become Deputy Prime Minister. Although he would have understood that entirely, he would not have agreed with much of their politics. I think that a coalition with Lloyd George as No.2 would not have lasted very long. There were two coalitions: 1916 to 1918 and 1918 to1922, the latter with Lloyd George as No.1. I think he would have been absolutely intolerable as No.2 in the coalition.

We have a Model United Nations in our school. For a budding politician, would you say it’s harder to climb your way into politics today than it was in the times of David Lloyd George and indeed when you yourself entered politics in the 1960’s?

I don’t know --- it seemed pretty hard in the Sixties.  I tried to become an MP for about twenty different constituencies before I found one that would have me, so that seemed pretty hard. I think that the big difference now is that politicians are completely different types of people. They are more administrators. They are more and more committed to “running the country sensibly” than having a political or ideological position. I don’t think running the country sensibly means anything because what and who are we running the country sensibly for? I don’t think that is a meaningful question. Politicians now have become much more administrators and less and less ideologues. I reject that but I think it’s happened.

What three tips would you give for a young person with aspirations of going into politics?

First of all, you’ve got to want it more than anything else; you’ve got to be prepared to make sacrifices for it. Despite what the Daily Mail says (and I worked for them for five years), most politicians in the three parties that I know could earn more outside of politics and have an easier time outside of politics but they come into politics because they believe in something. Belief is the most important thing. If you just want to ‘be’ it, it’s not going to work. You have to want to ‘do’ it because there is not much reward other than seeing your ideas develop. To anyone wanting to be involved in politics, I’d say two things. One, you have to be prepared to make all sorts of sacrifices: money, time, leisure and family. Secondly, you have to have a real reason as to why you believe. Since I was 18, a bit older than you, I believed in more equality and that’s what I’ve done in local and national government, Cabinet and back benching. If you’ve got an idea that you’re shaping, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

If you were to write another biography on someone, who would you think of doing it on?

Joseph Chamberlain
(source: BBC)
I would like to do Joseph Chamberlain. There’s a lot of talk about the best man never to be prime minister: Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey and Ian Macleod, for example. However, I think that the best Prime Minister that we never had was indeed Joseph Chamberlain. He was also a rogue. He was not a private rogue (like Lloyd George), he was a professional one. He split two parties: after leaving the Liberal party, he became a Liberal Unionist and, later, he resigned from the Tory party over Irish Home Rule. I’m not sure I want to convince you of how cynical the world has become but there’s something you must know about Joseph Chamberlain --- he is unpublishable. He was married at 25 and his wife died when he was 27. He then had thirty years in which he did nothing except concentrate on politics: he was Lord Mayor of Birmingham and he invented municipal socialism. Then, when he was 59, he married Florence Kenrick and they lived happily ever after. There is nothing prurient about his private life: he didn’t steal money and he didn’t run away with girls, and so he is un-publishable. I would write a book about him, but anybody who is just a politician, nobody would publish it these days.

 David Lloyd George: The Great Outsider  by Roy Hattersley was published in paperback in March 2012.

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