A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Changing Horses a Century Ago: Lloyd George Becomes Prime Minister

David Lloyd George
This particular 100th anniversary post notes an event which, while not directly related to the Middle East, would have enormous effects on the Middle East in the remaining two years of the First World War. On December 7, 1916, David Lloyd George replaced Herbert Asquith as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Internal Liberal Party politics, which I need not go into here, propelled Asquith to step down.
Lloyd George, a proud Welshman and veteran Liberal politician, had been serving as Minister of Munitions until June, when Lord Kitchener went down with HMS Hampshire in the North Sea. and Lloyd George took over as Secretary of State for War.

Even before becoming Prime Minister, Lloyd George became a strong advocate for emphasizing the Eastern Theaters of the war, particularly Palestine, Greece, and the Balkans, and as Prime Minister continued this focus, echoing his younger (then still) Liberal Party colleague Winston Churchill. Though he never got War Cabinet approval to shift troops from the Western Front, he did preside over more aggressive efforts in Palestine and the Balkan Front.

The 1917 Overture (Punch cartoon)
An avid reader of the Bible who said he preferred the Old Testament over the New, he had a fascination with Biblical geography. (During the Paris Peace negotiations he reportedly asked Clemenceau to cede to Britain the Mandate over "Palestine from Dan to Beersheba," though the Biblical definition was less than the eventual Mandate.) Though the Balfour Declaration of 1917 bears the name of the Foreign Secretary, Alfred James Balfour, Lloyd George was at least its godfather. And in the 1919 peacemaking, Lloyd George was deeply involved in bringing Palestine and Mosul into Britain's sphere.

Herbert Asquith had been easily dominated by his Cabinet colleagues, with stronger men like Kitchener at the War Office and Churchill at the Admiralty (until Gallipoli). Lloyd George would be a very different sort of leader.

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