Winston Churchill: The Liberal Phase, Part II

A continuation of Lucy Masterman’s recollections of Sir Winston Churchill as a member of the Liberal Governments before the First World War.

The conflict over the budget of 1909 was a real conflict, pressing on towards real victory or real defeat, to which point Lloyd George (at this stage), Asquith less exuberantly, the rank and file of the Liberal party quite implacably, were determined to bring it.

The more he recognized this, the more restless Winston became. He began to urge reform of the House of Lords rather than an abolition of its power to veto legislation—called invariably, if misleadingly, “The Veto Bill”—in the hope that in the thickets of detail the precise centre of conflict might get lost.

I believe, nevertheless, that some such project was considered in the Cabinet, although, as I wrote at the time, it “was not mentioned in any election address and was at any time an impossible task for a government with a small majority, as it was full of small contentious points on which they might at any moment be defeated.” No one was sure where King Edward stood. Winston, I record, kept saying: “We cannot defend intellectually our position on the Veto.”

But somehow he did manage to find an admirable intellectual defence of it later on. Matters were brought to a crisis by an absurdly minor issue, a tax on whisky which the Irish, disgruntled by delay on the Lords issue, though they did not say so, were prepared to vote against, and the Government were dependent on their votes.

Lloyd George brushed this issue out of the way, and pressed for the Prime Minister to obtain from the King a “guarantee” that, if the Budget and Parliament Bill were thrown out again by the Lords, he would create sufficient peers to give the Government a majority in the Upper House. This policy was accepted by the Cabinet and received with rejoicing, when it was announced in the House, by the Liberal Party.

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