ANC-C7525 | Hon. David Lloyd George
Hon. David Lloyd George
This artefact belongs to : © National Archives of Canada
Keys to History
When Borden visited England in the summer of 1915, the one British cabinet minister who impressed him was David Lloyd George. This was surprising. Apart from childhood poverty the two men had little in common. Borden was a progressive Conservative who believed that government could be efficient and creative, but Lloyd George, a former solicitor from Wales, had opposed British imperialism and the Boer War, sometimes in the face of mob violence. As a Liberal minister he had been the chief architect of Britain's pioneering social insurance schemes and a foe of the House of Lords. In 1914 some had wondered whether he would support the war.
Once the war came, however, he threw his energy into winning a victory, much like Borden in Canada. When a desperate lack of artillery shells crippled the British army and brought down Herbert Asquith's Liberal government, Lloyd George became a dynamic, effective Minister of Munitions, scrapping traditional methods and forcing the pace of production, even in Canada, where a British-sponsored Imperial Munitions replaced an inefficient, self-promoting Shell Committee. Borden had found a fellow spirit who shared his earnestness about the war. He was delighted when a parliamentary coup, stage-managed by two Canadian M.Ps. in the British Parliament, Andrew Bonar-Law and Max Aitken, forced out Asquith and installed Lloyd George as Prime Minister in December, 1916.
Borden's manpower commitment was a conscious bid for respect and consultation within a British Empire accustomed to governing exclusively from Whitehall in downtown London. Lloyd George probably had little idea of the forces he was unleashing when he called the Dominions to British councils.
When Robert Borden committed Canada to find half a million soldiers for the first World War, he was responding to the depth of commitment Britain's Minister of Munitions was demonstrating in an otherwise lack-lustre British government.
Managing the British Empire with representatives from around the world imposed great problems when each prime minister had a home government to manage on the other side of the world. When Borden was in London, almost every decision in Ottawa awaited his return.
Only after Lloyd George became Prime Minister at the end of 1916 would Borden begin to achieve the level of consultation he believed Canada had earned by its huge commitment of men and resources. Lloyd George turned to Dominion leaders like Borden and South Africa's Jan Smuts as reinforcements in his struggle to mobilize his British colleagues.
As British prime minister, David Lloyd George was the political leader of an Empire which had never elected him to Parliament and which had had no voice in his appointment as Prime Minister (though a couple of Canadians had played a key role in his rise).