The Pain and the Privilege: The Women in Lloyd George’s Life by Ffion Hague - review by Richard Toye

Richard Toye

A Liberal Lover

The Pain and the Privilege: The Women in Lloyd George’s Life


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‘My supreme idea is to get on’, wrote the young David Lloyd George to his sweetheart, Margaret Owen, during their prolonged courtship. Ominously, he added: ‘I am prepared to thrust even love itself under the wheels of my Juggernaut if it obstructs the way.’ In spite of this warning Maggie married him anyway, a testament to his powers of bewitchment. These were both his making and his downfall, in politics and in his personal life. With a troublesome delegation or a mass meeting he could, he believed, look into the audience’s mind and project its feelings back to it. With women, to whom he was immensely attractive, he could act by turns the needy little boy and the domineering master who would look elsewhere if his wants were not instantly satisfied. In public life he put his talents to terrific use for a long period, doing much as a Liberal minister after 1905 to lay the foundations of the modern welfare state, and making a profound wartime contribution, not least as Prime Minister from 1916. In the end, however, manipulation of others became a reflex rather than a means to any particular end. Increasingly seen as untrustworthy, he fell from power, never to return, in 1922. When the British people fell out of love with him they walked away. Not so the numerous women in his life, who, in spite of many miseries, remained trapped in the web he had woven and into which many of them had gladly entered.

Lloyd George’s infidelities are well known. For the most part, however, the surviving evidence of them is limited and potentially unreliable. For this reason, the trail left by Frances Stevenson, his secretary-cum-mistress from 1913, is invaluable. In the 1960s and 1970s she not only published her memoirs, but allowed the

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