Boris must capture the reforming zeal of Lloyd George

For many people, myself included, David Lloyd George was one of the greatest reforming liberals Britain has had in Downing Street. 

Lloyd George, the great outsider, was a radical force for change. From free trade to protecting consumers against cronyism and fixing the welfare state, he never shied away from the biggest challenges of his era.

Along with Herbert Asquith, he stood up to the House of Lords – and won against the establishment. Before the 1923 election, he resolved his bitter disputes with Asquith to run on a united ticket against Stanley Baldwin’s protectionist tariffs policies. He won the first world war, and was part of the government that implemented the great social reform programme of the early 1900s.

The issues the UK faces today are, of course, worlds apart from the issues faced by the likes of Lloyd George one hundred years ago – but the need for a government and a policy programme of his radical, reforming zeal is the same.

Boris’s government must show the grit to tackle the issues which beset it from all sides. We are not only facing a fundamental shift in the British economy caused by Brexit, but we are also in the midst of a housing crisis. Our railway network and health system are barely fit for purpose. The tax system is needlessly convoluted, and the tax burden is at its highest in decades. The political establishment is at war with itself. Capitalism is suffering a crisis of confidence.

I’ve written before about making a success of Brexit – that leaving the EU in and of itself won’t be the silver bullet, nor the death knell, for the UK economy – but the reforms which we enact alongside leaving the EU will dictate whether doing so is a success. 

Theresa May was the wrong choice to deliver Brexit. Of course, that’s easy to say in retrospect – back in 2016 there was a feeling that leaving the EU required a safe pair of hands. Now, the overwhelming sentiment is that the next Prime Minister must be a “true believer”. That isn’t, necessarily, the case: having a day one Brexiteer in post will certainly help mollify the ERG and other rebellious backbenchers, but the most important thing is that Boris doesn’t hold back from being a reformer who isn’t afraid to stick their head out on the big issues. 

During the 1911 constitutional crisis, Lloyd George stood up to the Lords – despite vested interests – and won. In doing so he managed to pass the ‘People’s Budget’ and make major reforms which shook up the British economy, paved the way for the welfare state, and improved the lives of working class people. 

Continually tweaking around the edges of the economy – in Theresa May’s managerial style – won’t work anymore. Brexit will represent a major shift in the British economy and gives us a chance to really look at the underlying issues we have with some of our public services. 

There are always calls for incoming leaders to emulate those who have preceded them. During the leadership election, some called for a Churchillian leader – someone to tackle a certain challenge. Others call for a Thatcher-esque leader, or even a leader with the tendencies of Clement Attlee – but that would require not only a unified house, which the government lacks, but also a more unified country. 

My favourite David Lloyd George quote is “I am prepared to thrust even love itself under the wheels of my juggernaut.” He did, of course – but the point is that he was so full of reforming zeal that he did absolutely everything to push through the changes he believed in.

Lloyd George was a great man, capable of coalition and unlikely alliances but also blessed with an immense will to stand up to and defeat vested interests. In order to not only achieve Brexit, but enact the liberal policy needed alongside in order to make a success of it, Boris must recapture that reforming spirit of Lloyd George.

Written by Matt Gillow

Matt Gillow is co-founder of 1828 and communications and events manager at the British Foreign Policy Group.
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