Geoffrey Lee’s book is a masterful summary of this fascinating and important episode in our history
Robert Lloyd George
Although the Edwardian period may in retrospect appear to have been a golden age, it was in reality a time of much turbulence in the political and social fields. There were long and often violent strikes in the docks and coalmines as well as in other less vital industries. Poverty was endemic, and it was the fear of the creation of a semi-criminal underclass as much as feelings of benevolence that led during this period to the beginnings of the welfare state.
Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, needed to increase taxation to meet the cost of the recently introduced old-age pensions and, in his 1909 budget, he proposed his famously controversial land taxes. These were based on Henry George’s philosophy as expounded in his economic bestseller, Progress and Poverty, published in 1879. Gladstone had incorporated his ideas in the Liberal Party’s programme.
The House of Lords, set on defending the interests of its members, rejected the budget, in the process breaking an unwritten rule preventing it from opposing ‘money bills’. In return the Government threatened to create enough Liberal Peers to outvote the Conservative majority. In the end the Peers backed down and the Parliament Act of 1911 established the supremacy of the elected chamber over the Lords.
The land taxes, badly drafted and never fully implemented because of the start of the First World War, were abolished in the 1920s. This book concludes by looking at the attempts and failure of subsequent governments to devise acceptable methods of separating the public from the private revenue of land to recoup for the community what the community itself creates, the heart of Henry George’s argument.