Alfred Mond was an industrialist, whose greatest achievement was forming the huge Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) conglomerate in 1926 out of his family’s business, Brunner Mond, and three other companies.

As a youth, he told relatives that he wanted to be ‘prime minister of England’, and informed his father that he was a Liberal “because I have examined all the parties and I find that there are less clever men among the Liberals than any other”. He studied for the Bar, though he thought law “a sterile and uncreative occupation,” because it was “the high road to politics”.

At the 1900 general election he stood as a Liberal in the Tory marginal of Salford South, but lost heavily. His Tory opponent was a major local brewer, and Mond warned voters that “the streets of South Salford had run with beer before today”. Mond was also ill during the campaign, with the rigours of public speaking triggering anxiety attacks.

He was then nominated for the Tory marginal of Chester. With a new Liberal government in charge, his chances in the January 1906 general election looked good. But, despite the national Liberal landslide, he barely scraped in with a margin of only 47 votes.

The main issue locally was that of imported Chinese labour in South African mines, a practice defended by Tories on the grounds that white men could not do the onerous work. The enterprising Mond sent five Chester workers to spend six months in the mines. Following his election, he presented the workers at the Commons, and made the issue the topic of his maiden speech on 23 February 1906 during the King’s Speech debate.

At the January 1910 election, he switched to the rather safer Swansea Town seat, thereby defying the anti-Liberal trend by holding his new seat despite a third party challenge from the controversial socialist, Ben Tillett, that split the anti-Conservative vote. His return at the December 1910 election was smoother, with 60 per cent of the vote in a straight fight with the Tories.

In 1910 he wrote himself a detailed memo setting out his political philosophy.  As a person of business and industry, he wanted the government to be run on business-like lines, rather than what he described as “the most popular of British systems, known as muddling through”.

He was an active parliamentarian, but his speeches, though intelligent, were often poorly delivered. A notable contribution came in March 1923 when he led the opposition to the famous anti-capitalism motion of the senior Labour MP, Philip Snowden.

In December 1916, Lloyd George, the new PM of the wartime coalition, made him first commissioner of works, a post he held until April 1921. This was probably a reward for Mond’s activity in the Liberal war committee, the ginger group that helped bring Lloyd George to power. He was a brisk and sometimes brusque minister. He once told an official: “The whole of the Book of Revelation occupies ten pages. I don’t see why new wash basins in the Revenue Office at Leeds should take a hundred pages.” 

In 1921, he became minister of health, but lost office when the Tories overthrew the Lloyd George ministry the following year. In the November 1922 general election, Mond held on to Swansea West, the new seat he had won in 1918, but he lost it by 115 votes to Labour in the 1923 election.

Luckily, he returned swiftly to Parliament at an August 1924 by-election when a vacancy arose in Carmarthen, and retained the seat comfortably a few months later following the fall of Ramsay MacDonald’s brief minority Labour government.

He grew increasingly disenchanted with the Liberals as a party, and abhorred their flirting with socialism. Lloyd George’s land nationalisation plan, published in October 1925, was the last straw. Within months, he publicly defected to the Conservatives. Lloyd George, believing he had really been seeking the Liberal leadership, infamously denounced him as being akin to Judas.   

He remained in his Carmarthen seat as a Tory. However, he told his new party that he wanted a peerage, and in 1928, he achieved his ambition. As the first Lord Melchett, he made his maiden speech on the very day of his introduction. His political conversion was complete.

Tags: Alfred Mond, Issue 37, They were also MPs