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Sir Alfred Mond (Lord Melchett), 1868-1930

Alfred Moritz Mond was born on 28 October 1868 at Parnworth, Lancashire, the younger son of Dr. Ludwig and Freda Mond. His father was a talented German Jew who had left Cassel in 1862 and who, together with John Tomlinson Brunner, set up the great chemical company which developed in 1881 into the public joint-stock company Brunner, Mond & Co. Mond inherited from his father a marked aptitude and flair for science and industry, and from his mother an appreciation of art.

He was educated at Cheltenham College, St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he studied the natural science tripos, and Edinburgh University. He was called to the bar in 1894 and practiced briefly on the North Wales and Chester Circuit. He viewed the experience as a valuable prelude to the political career to which he was totally committed. But in 1895 he became director, and a little later managing director, of his father’s nickel and chemical business. During his subsequent years of business management he formulated a firm industrial philosophy from which he never departed. He became convinced of the need for organisation and research, and was an advocate of industrial rationalisation and amalgamation. He championed close cooperation between employers and the labour force.

Mond’s first foray into political life came in the notorious khaki general election of 1900 when, attracted by the social, economic and commercial policies of the Liberal Party, he contested the marginal seat of South Salford. After an exhausting three-cornered contest, he was soundly defeated by the Tory candidate by more than a thousand votes. In 1903 he joined the National League of Young Liberals and became a keen advocate of the New Liberalism. He secured the Liberal nomination for highly marginal Chester where, in the Liberal avalanche of 1906, he was elected by a margin of forty-seven. He subsequently served as Liberal MP for Chester from 1906-10, for Swansea Town from 1910-18, and for Swansea West from 1918-23. He also served for Carmarthen from 1924-28, joining the Conservative Party in January 1926.

Although rightly described as blunt, direct, sometimes rather blustering, and occasionally distinctly ill-mannered, Mond made his mark on political life, impressing fellow MPs by his strength of character, business acumen and grasp of detail. At Swansea he was depicted as an odd exotic amongst a predominantly pedestrian group of Welsh Liberal MPs. He was the victim of virulent anti-semitic onslaughts from his Tory opponents, and his spurious patriotism was easily assailed by fiery patriots like Keir Hardie.

Mond first achieved renown as a prominent member of the Liberal War Committee set up in January 1916, the ginger group of Liberals who helped to propel Lloyd George to the premiership.

Consequently, the new Prime Minister made Mond First Commissioner of Works, one of the most important posts not of Cabinet rank to be filled by a Liberal. Despite much local resentment, he was narrowly re-elected at Swansea West in the coupon general election of 1918. In the post-war government he emerged as a vocal proponent of constructive social reform. He displayed an avid preoccupation with imperial matters and Welsh affairs and was a diehard opponent of repeated plans to secure the fusion of Lloyd George’s Liberal followers and their Tory allies.

In April 1921 Mond succeeded Dr Christopher Addison as Minister of Public Health. In this position, strongly supported by Lloyd George, he was obliged to jettison his predecessor’s ambitious house-building programme and far-reaching slum clearance plans. When the coalition government fell in October 1922, Mond stood for re-election at Swansea West as a prefixless Liberal and won by only 802 votes.

In 1923 he became a zealous advocate of Liberal reunion, but, ironically, in the general election which followed in November he was narrowly defeated by socialist barrister Walter Samuel. Within months, however, he was presented with the opportunity to return to the Commons when the ailing Sir Ellis Jones Ellis-Griffith, veteran Liberal MP for Carmarthenshire, resolved to retire from Parliament.

This precipitated a byelection in August 1924; Mond secured the Liberal nomination and was easily returned to Parliament by a majority of 4,409.

In the further general election which followed the collapse of Ramsay MacDonald’s first Labour government before the end of the year, Mond more than doubled his majority at Carmarthen, but his position within the Liberal Party was growing ever more uncomfortable. As a zealous anti-socialist, he increasingly abhorred Lloyd George’s embryonic proposals for a form of quasi-nationalisation of rural land. The publication in October 1925 of the famous Liberal policy document, The Land and the Nation (the Green Book), with proposals amounting almost to a nationalisation of rural land, proved the last straw. The following January he resigned from the Liberal Party and joined the Conservatives. He was due to contest the next election in Carmarthenshire as a Tory candidate, but in June 1928 he was elevated to the peerage as the first Baron Melchett of Blandford. This precipitated a byelection in the county on 6 June, during which Mond appeared on Conservative election platforms.

As a peer Lord Melchett played little active part in party politics. He devoted the closing years of his life to the pursuit of Zionism and the achievement of industrial harmony, the rationalisation of British industry and imperial economic unity. His extensive business interests remained of central importance. He was Chairman of the board of Mond Nickel from 1922, a member of the board of Brunner, Mond & Company from 1923, and in 1926 he was one of the leading lights behind the formation of Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd (ICI).

He re-emerged as the instigator of the Mond-Turner industrial peace conferences, first convened in January 1928, an initiative which created a more conciliatory spirit in the aftermath of the General Strike, and won him the respect and trust of some prominent trade union leaders. Mond died at his home in Lowndes Square, London, on 27 December 1930. He had married Violet Florence Mabel, daughter of James Henry Coetze, a coffee merchant of Mincing Street, London in 1894. They had three daughters and one son, the Hon. Henry Ludwig (born 1898), who succeeded him as second baron. He was the author of a number of works including Industry and Politics (1927) and Imperial Economic Unity (1930). Most of his numerous articles were re-published in Questions of Today and Tomorrow (1912).

Mond made an important contribution to British political life. Although he had a bad voice, a bad delivery, and a presence unimpressive to all but the caricaturist, he made a number of memorable speeches in the Commons. He displayed a notable common sense and a mastery of industrial and fiscal questions, earning considerable respect and affection in political circles and tackling head-on the housing problem in 1921-22. He emerged as the most authoritative critic of the theories of the Socialist Party in the House of Commons …. a man of capability rather than a man of genius. A biography by Hector Bolitho, Alfred Mond: first Lord Melchett was published in 1933. A PhD thesis by G. M. Bayliss, The Outsider: Aspects of the Political Career of Alfred Mond, first Lord Melchett (1868-1930), was accepted by the University of Wales in 1969.

 

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