Monday, March 19, 2007

The Churchill/Lloyd George relationship

Last week I started reading Richard Toye’s new book, Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness. Toye must be relieved that it got a good review in the Sunday Times at the weekend after a pasting from Martin Gilbert in the Spectator. Gilbert demolished Toye’s claim that Churchill had written an anti-Semitic article in 1937 by pointing out that the piece in question was ghosted by a journalist for Churchill. It was never published.

Toye sets out to show that the relationship between the Churchill and Lloyd George was rather more fraught than Churchill later made it out to be. There is nothing particularly new in this for anyone who has read some correspondence between the two men. The friendship, if it was one, was uncomfortably one-sided. Churchill saw himself as Lloyd George’s friend while Lloyd George saw his colleague - when it suited him - as a useful ally. He was very bitchy about Churchill behind his back.

From what I have read generally, Churchill’s relationship with Lloyd George soured as it became clear that Lloyd George’s determination to force tough terms on Turkey after the First World War would make Churchill’s job much harder. The reason for this was that Churchill, as Secretary of State for War and then as the Colonial Secretary was responsible for trying to withdraw troops from Iraq: at first, as part of an economy drive, and then, following the revolt in Iraq in 1920, as a way of reducing the British presence which had encouraged the rebellion. His task would have been much easier had Britain come to terms with Turkey, which bordered the north of Iraq. Lloyd George, however, refused to temper his position, which was based more on a visceral dislike of the Turks than on Britain's national interest. As a result Churchill spent much of the time worrying about the threat of a Turkish invasion of Iraq.

On 4 December 1920 Churchill wrote to Lloyd George saying that he was “sorry how far we are drifting apart on foreign policy”.

“It seems to me a most injurious thing that we, the greatest Mohammedan power in the world, [should] be the leading Anti-Turk power. The desire you have to retain Mosul - & indeed Mesopotamia – is directly frustrated by this vendetta against the Turks.”

“I deeply regret and resent being forced to ask Parlt for these appalling sums of money for new Provinces – all the more when the pursuance of the anti-Turk policy complicates and aggravates the situation in every one of them, & renders cheaper solutions impossible.” (Churchill Archive, CHAR 2/111)

There’s an interesting parallel between Lloyd George and Churchill and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown today. One gets the sense that once Lloyd George became Prime Minister, his relationship with Churchill became distinctly tense, just the same dynamic that affected Blair and Brown, who originally shared an office together in Westminster. Churchill, like Brown, was too big a beast to be excluded from the government. Churchill’s ambitions, like Brown’s, were constantly restrained by the knowledge that his own position depended on the patronage of the Prime Minister.

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