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Megan Lloyd George, 1902-1966

Megan Lloyd George was born at Criccieth, Caernarfonshire, on 22 April 1902, the third daughter and fifth child of David Lloyd George and his wife Margaret. Until the age of four she could speak only Welsh. She was educated privately, in part by Frances Stevenson, who became her father’s mistress and in 1943 his second wife, and later at Garratts Hall, Banstead, and in Paris.

Her natural brilliance was sparked by her unique upbringing; from the age of eight until twenty she spent much of her time at Number 11, and subsequently Number 10, Downing Street. She savoured political life at the hub of events, and, following the death of the eldest daughter Mair in 1907, occupied centre stage in her father’s affections. She accompanied him to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, meeting a glittering array of world statesmen, diplomats and military figures, and to a succession of post-war international conferences. She was at her father’s side on his triumphal tour of Canada and the USA in 1923. She spent a whole year (1924-25) as the guest of Lord Reading, Viceroy of India.

She was widely regarded by the mid-1920s as her father’s natural political heir. In 1928, after some underhand tactics in which both Lloyd George and Dame Margaret were much implicated, Megan secured the Liberal nomination for Anglesey. On 30 May 1929, she was elected to the Commons, the first-ever woman MP from Wales and the only Liberal lady to enjoy a relatively safe seat.

She soon made her own distinctive mark in the House as an independent-minded, highly individualistic MP with strong radical, even Labourite leanings. Her eloquent maiden speech in 1930, witnessed by her adoring father, discussed the problems of rural housing. She subsequently spoke to great effect on agriculture, unemployment and Welsh affairs. In the autumn of 1931 she was one of the tiny group of four Lloyd George family MPs who, unlike the rest of the Liberal Party, opposed the formation of Ramsay MacDonald’s National Government.

She secured re-election to the Commons as an Independent Liberal in the general elections of 1931 and 1935. Although flirting ever-more closely with the Labour Party, she remained true to her father’s brand of Liberalism. She supported his ambitious New Deal programme in 1935, accompanied him on his visit to Hitler in 1936, and opposed the policy of appeasement, urging him to press for Chamberlain’s resignation in May 1940.

During the Second World War Lloyd George served on an array of consultative committees and became a keen advocate of women’s issues. She was a member of the 1944 Speakers’ Conference on Electoral Reform and a leading light on the Woman Power Committee devoted to women’s rights and the employment of women in wartime. She was also an unrelenting champion of Welsh causes, helping to press, unsuccessfully, for the appointment of a Secretary of State for Wales in 1943, and for a Welsh Day debate in the Commons.

In 1945 her majority sharply reduced in Anglesey. She was one of only twelve Liberal MPs re-elected to Parliament and was the only national figure among them. When Clement Davies became Chairman of the motley group, Lloyd George, who saw herself as a minority radical in a minority party, looked increasingly askance at what she perceived as Davies’ inclination to veer towards the Tories. Small, vital, with unlimited energy, she formed a close bond of friendship with Attlee and Herbert Morrison and, crucially, Labour’s General Secretary Morgan Phillips, and was widely considered ‘one of us’ by Labour MPs.

In January 1949, in an attempt to improve party unity, Clement Davies made her Deputy Leader. But she caused renewed dissension in her party’s ranks, culminating in November 1950 with the revolt of four Liberal MPs, including herself, against the party leadership – though this rebellion eventually petered out.

Lloyd George faced Tory opponents on Anglesey in the general elections of 1950 and 1951. In the former contest she was re-elected by a majority of 1,929 votes, but in the latter she was defeated by Cledwyn Hughes (Labour), standing in his third successive general election in the county. A tenure of twenty-two years thus came to an end. In November 1952 she declined to stand again as the Liberal candidate for Anglesey and at about the same time stood down as Vice-President of the Liberal Party.

A number of prominent radicals including Lloyd George and Dingle Foot had been considering the possibility of joining the Labour Party en masse, naively hoping to have some restraining influence on the Bevanites within the party. Lloyd George scuppered that plan by announcing her defection in April 1955 and she was subsequently to contribute substantially to the Labour election campaign later the same year. The death of Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris caused a fiercely contested byelection in the Carmarthenshire division in February 1957, and Lloyd George returned to the Commons as a Labour MP by a majority of more than 3,000 votes.

During her years in the political wilderness she served as the charismatic and indefatigable President of the tenacious Parliament for Wales campaign of the early 1950s. She appeared on the platform at its inaugural conference at Llandrindod in July 1950, subsequently speaking at meetings and conferences throughout Wales, and serving as one of the deputation which in April 1956 presented a petition of more than 250,000 signatures, ironically to her brother Gwilym, at the time Conservative Home Secretary and Minister for Welsh Affairs under Anthony Eden.

The personal popularity which Megan Lloyd George had undoubtedly enjoyed in Anglesey soon became evident in Carmarthenshire, where she developed a substantial popular following, gradually increasing her majority to more than 9,000 votes by 1966. Within the Commons she spoke generally on Welsh affairs or on agriculture, but neither Hugh Gaitskell nor Harold Wilson ever invited her to speak from the opposition front bench, and, when Labour returned to power in 1964, she remained a back-bencher.

By this time, she was already suffering from cancer, an illness which prevented her from campaigning at all in the 1966 general election. On 14 May 1966 she died at Brynawelon, her Criccieth home, within days of receiving the CH, ironically from Harold Wilson, whom she disliked intensely. She was buried at Criccieth in the Lloyd George family vault. She remained unmarried.

Throughout her life, as both a Liberal and a Labour MP, she remained true to the passionate radicalism which was the hallmark of her father’s political career. She was addressed in 1949 as a true daughter of the Welsh Wizard: she witches friend and foe alike. Megan was, moreover, a Welsh radical who never failed to advocate policies beneficial to her native Wales, and who served as a member of the Criccieth Urban District Council for several years. An unfailingly eloquent orator, she was equally at home in the Commons, on the hustings, in a packed Royal Albert Hall or on the radio. Whether, had she survived, she would ever have been rewarded with a post in government, however, is debatable.

A brief pictorial review of her life and career by Emyr Price, Megan Lloyd George, was published by the Gwynedd Archives Service in 1983. Mervyn Jones’, A Radical Life: the Biography of Megan Lloyd George, 1902-1966 (London, 1991) is a fuller biographical work focusing largely on its subject’s relationship with Philip Noel-Baker.

 

J Graham Jones was an Archivist at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth at the time of writing this piece. He is the author of A Pocket Guide: the History of Wales (1990) and several articles on late nineteenth and twentieth century Welsh politics.