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Clement Davies, 1884-1962

Edward Clement Davies was born on 19 February 1884 at Llanfyllin, Montgomeryshire, the youngest of the seven children of Moses Davies, an auctioneer, and Elizabeth Margaret Jones. He was educated at the local primary school, won a scholarship to Llanfyllin County School in 1897 and proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became senior foundation scholar and graduated with first class honours in both parts of the law tripos. He won a glittering array of prizes.

He earned his living as a law lecturer at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth from 1908-09 and was called to the bar by Lincolns Inn. He joined the North Wales circuit in 1909 and the Northern circuit in 1910. In the same year he migrated to London, soon establishing a successful and lucrative legal practice, displaying a rapid mastery of his briefs and publishing respected works on agricultural law and the law of auctions.

In 1914, at the outbreak of war, he was appointed adviser within the office of the Procurator- General on enemy activities in neutral countries and on the high seas. He was later made responsible for trading with the enemy, a position within the Board of Trade. In 1918/19 he served as Secretary to the President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, and subsequently as Secretary to the Master of the Rolls until 1923. He was one of the junior counsel to the Treasury, 1919-25, and took silk in 1926. He served as Chairman of the Montgomeryshire quarter sessions from 1935 until his death in 1962.

From his boyhood Clement Davies had been fascinated by political life. He was approached as a possible Liberal candidate as early as 1910, but did not consent to stand for Parliament until 1927 when he was chosen as the Liberal candidate for his native Montgomeryshire. Seen initially as an avid radical and a stalwart supporter of David Lloyd George, Davies was returned to Parliament in May 1929 by a majority of just over 2,000 votes. In August 1930 he accepted a lucrative position as legal director to Lever Brothers, which seemed to spell the end of his political career. But, at the eleventh hour, the company resolved to permit Davies to continue in Parliament.

In the general election of October 1931, after some complex political manoeuvres within Montgomeryshire, he was returned unopposed as one of the Liberal National followers of Sir John Simon, and again in November 1935. As a back-bencher, he served as a tireless member of a number of committees. From 1937-38 he chaired an influential governmental inquiry into the incidence of tuberculosis in Wales, probing the standards of public health care and housing in all the Welsh counties. He consistently argued for the appointment of a Secretary of State for Wales.

At the outbreak of the Second World War he chaired an action committee which pressed for a more effective conduct of the war effort, and he is credited with persuading Lloyd George to speak in the House of Commons in May 1940 in favour of Neville Chamberlain’s resignation. Lord Boothby, a first-hand observer of these events, was to describe Davies as one of the architects – some may judge the principal architect – of the coalition government led by Churchill.

In 1941 he resigned his position with Unilever, and in August 1942 rejoined the mainstream Liberal Party and spoke extensively throughout Britain. Re-elected with a majority of a little over 3,000 votes in the general election of 1945, Davies was now one of only twelve Liberal MPs. He was made Chairman of the party by his somewhat reluctant fellow members in succession to the defeated Sir Archibald Sinclair. Throughout his tenure of this position until 1956, he faced an appallingly difficult political task.

At the 1945 Liberal Summer School he warned party members against the Tory spider, ever ready to trap Liberal supporters, and he consistently and doggedly distanced himself and his party from doctrinaire socialism. Consequently he faced no Tory opponent in Montgomeryshire in the general elections of 1951 and 1955. Yet his party faced manifold financial and organisational problems, and constantly lost members to both Conservatives and Labour. Even Lady Megan Lloyd George, whom Davies appointed as his Deputy Leader in January 1949, seemed ever more likely to move left. When Churchill offered him a Cabinet post as Minister of Education in October 1951, Davies refused, thus preserving the integrity of his party as an independent political force.

During subsequent years, until Jo Grimond succeeded him in September 1956, he spared no effort to revive and reunite his feud-racked, often ailing party, which he at least kept intact at a most critical time in its history. He was highly popular within Montgomeryshire and earned the respect of members of all parties within the Commons. Rightly described as a radical evangelist by temperament rather than a party boss, he disliked rigid party organisation and conventions. He spoke widely throughout England and Wales, most notably to university audiences, and never wavered in his heartfelt devotion to worthy causes such as social justice and reform, collective security, freedom of the individual, and world government.

He found his role as President of the Parliamentary Association for World Government in his latter years especially gratifying. This work led to his nomination (albeit unsuccessfully) for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1955, a move advanced by over a hundred parliamentarians.

In 1913 Davies married Jano Elizabeth Davies, adopted daughter of Dr Morgan Davies, a London-Welsh surgeon. An accomplished public speaker and astute politician in her own right, Jano gave unstinting support to her husband’s public work. Of the four children of the marriage, three died at twenty-four years of age.

Clement Davies died at a London clinic on 23 March 1962, still an MP, shortly after the sensational Liberal victory at Orpington. His seat was held at the ensuing byelection by Emlyn Hooson. In 1960 he had announced his intention to retire from the Commons at the next general election, and, had he survived, would probably have accepted a peerage in 1964.

A large group of Davies’ personal and political papers have been deposited at the National Library of Wales. Clement Davies: A Biography was recently published by Alun Wyburn Powell.