WHEN LLOYD GEORGE CAME TO TOWN
CONDEMNATION OF 'NEWPORT ENGLISHMEN'
Newport played its part in the destruction of a separate Welsh home rule movement in 1896 and thwarted the political ambitions of David Lloyd George, the rising star of the Liberal Party.
Welsh home rule, often mooted, never became official Liberal party policy, and, when the Welsh Liberal M.P.s attempted independent action, widespread and vehement criticism ensued. Ultimately their so called ‘Cymru Fydd’ crusade of 1894-96 an attempt to establish a national Liberal organization for the whole of Wales came to ignominious grief as a result of the intransigent hostility of the South Wales Liberal Federation. The bitter conflict came to a head at the Newport meeting of 16 January 1896 which dealt Cymru Fydd a devastating blow from which it never recovered. As the Cymru Fydd movement developed, it became closely entwined with the personal political ambitions of David Lloyd George (pictured top left) who came to depict it as a means of superseding, rather than supplementing, the existing Liberal bodies.
The object was to take over the Liberal federations of north and south Wales in order to promote home rule for Wales. He made headway in the Welsh speaking north and west. But Cymru Fydd ran into fierce opposition from the south Wales Liberals, and their leader, Lloyd George’s former ally, D. A. Thomas (pictured centre left). He agreed with the proposition but objected to the organisation in to four districts (Monmouthshire and Glamorgan forming one). A crusading lecture tour by Lloyd George in the industrial valleys had only limited impact. Interestingly Lloyd George found Monmouthshire an unresponsive area complaining in a letter to his wife during the campaign of 1895 “the sad folk of Tredegar seem permanently sunk in a morbid footballism”. He felt that the working classes were more interested in rugby than his crusade for home rule.
At the meeting at Newport in January 1896, Lloyd George met with the indignity of being howled down by the Anglicized mercantile representatives of the southern ports of Swansea, Cardiff, and Newport. A great battle royal was fought between the new and the old forces at Newport, under the presidency of the Member for the Monmouth Boroughs, Mr. (now Sir) Albert Spicer, the occasion being the annual meeting of the South Wales Liberal Federation.
Lloyd George, and a small body-guard from North Wales, attended the meeting, claiming a group on the ground that they had been appointed delegates by local Liberal Associations in South Wales upon which the Cymru Fydd element had proved sufficiently strong to ensure this move being successful. Objection, and formal protest, was taken at the meeting to the presence of these North Walians, the most insistent opponents being the miners’ leaders, whom Mr. Lloyd George had hoped to have won over.
After Robert Bird, a senior Cardiff Alderman (pictured bottom left) declared his determination to resist ‘the domination of Welsh ideas’, the merger proposal was defeated. He pointed out to Lloyd George that there existed in south Wales ‘from Swansea to Newport, a population that was not altogether Welsh’ . According to the South Wales Daily News ‘loud uproar and manifestations of dissent intermingled with cries of ‘Shame!” Bird persisted ‘throughout South Wales from Swansea to Newport, there were thousands of Englishmen, as true Liberals as they were, who would object to the idea and to the principle Lloyd George had enunciated. It is claimed a large number of ‘delegates’ entered the hall at this point. By 121 to 84 the motion to allow Lloyd George to speak was lost.
Despite protestations about the tactics employed Newport had destroyed Lloyd George’s aspirations for home rule. Cymru Fydd promptly collapsed, as did hopes of Welsh self government for almost another hundred years. Condemned by the ‘Newport Englishmen’, Lloyd George had suffered a serious defeat.
He returned to Newport several times after that. There is film of him as Minister of Munitions, visiting Newport during a First World War munitions shortage on 11 June 1915, a year before he became a successful Prime Minister. He was back in 1918 at the invitation of local fund raiser Mrs W M Blackburn who organised an August Bank Holiday fete for Comrades of the Great War. In 1922 he failed to visit or speak when a celebrated by election campaign by the Conservatives in Newport led to his defeat as Prime Minister.