Edward Lloyd’s politics

Early in his life, Lloyd conceived a good idea — to publish material that the poor could afford and would like to read, so encouraging the habit and enabling them to use literacy as a means of moving out of poverty. It was also a good business plan since there was a huge unmet demand. Lloyd had the skills needed to make it a profitable one.

Too little is known of his personal views to make a definitive statement about his political beliefs. The record suggests that he started life as a radical and ended it as a supporter of the Liberal establishment, but this may be deceptive. Some of the evidence suggests that he remained a radical throughout his life. Conclusions can only be drawn from the content of his papers. This would call for a major analysis that is beyond this website’s capacity to carry out.

Two periods of his life have been associated with active political involvement: his early years rubbing shoulders with the radicals and his final decades as publisher of two newspapers that broadly supported the Liberal Party. The two have little in common.

As a young man, Lloyd would have identified with the working classes. He was not only the son of a poor family in trade who had to earn a living to survive, but he also shared the squalid London housing where working people had to live. For him to have wanted to improve their lives would have been natural.

The second period was quite different. From the mid-1850s, Lloyd's prosperity and social standing went into near-vertical ascent. At home, he moved into a grander way of life, possibly propelled by a socially ambitious wife. Professionally, he was publisher of a Sunday paper that was influential by weight of numbers alone: the circulation of Lloyd's Weekly went from 90,000 in 1853 to 500,000 in 1872, outstripping all others.

Newspapers are habitually given a party label and his titles in this period were treated as Liberal. Given his background, it is hardly surprising that Lloyd rejected the Tory ticket, but Lloyd’s Weekly did not conform to Liberal Party policy either. In its turn, the Daily Chronicle had quite a few outright clashes with the party.

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Lloyd the Liberal — Lloyd’s Weekly

A national Sunday newspaper in general circulation was a gigantic step for Lloyd to take in terms of his business, reputation and future. He planned and tightly controlled the tenor of all its contents.

At the beginning, Lloyd’s Weekly was outspokenly radical. It denounced all political parties and factions with equal force. This suggests a desire to influence government by means of the popular press but, even so, his motives would not have been that simple. The readers were even less likely than him to support Whigs or Tories, so the paper’s radicalism may have sprung from shrewd market analysis.

Equally shrewd was Lloyd’s choice of a Sunday paper. Not only was the workload one sixth that of a daily, but it was also the only day of the week when his target readers would have had any time to enjoy it.

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Lloyd the Liberal — Daily Chronicle

The Daily Chronicle does nothing to solve the enigma of Edward Lloyd’s own political beliefs. The editor in his time, Robert Boyle, was not as politically outspoken as those who followed, although it was under his direction that it became the first paper to carry detailed news of industrial disputes. In 1889, its coverage of the London dock strike was extensive and gained new readers.

The value of this as evidence of Lloyd’s political views is equivocal. The freedom to join a union and picket workplaces had only been recognised by law for a few years. It must have been absolutely obvious to Lloyd the newsman that the many people affected by this novelty, or merely curious about it, would want news coverage.

Radicals in the Liberal Party, later led by Lloyd George’s “independent” faction, had yet to embrace social reform fully. Unions and workers had no regular representation until 1900 when the Labour Party was created. The Liberals were therefore the only source of support for the cause of the poor as championed by Lloyd’s Weekly for the previous 35 years. Had it been launched a quarter century later, it is not entirely fanciful to speculate that the Daily Chronicle’s political allegiance might have been to Labour.

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