Sir George Cave
Conservative, in Lloyd George’s National Government, 1916-19
Sir George Cave was a successful barrister, if not outstandingly so, when he was elected to parliament. His father had been a Liberal MP but, like many of his era, it was his Unionism that made him a Conservative (they styled themselves the Unionist Party at the time). He had been educated in France, then at Merchant Taylors’ and St John’s, Oxford, where he secured firsts in Classics and Greats. Having entered parliament, he made his name in legal matters. He served on the committee of inquiry into the Marconi Scandal (he was in the critical minority) and played a prominent role on the unionist side of the home rule crisis. In 1915, he was made solicitor general and along with attorney general, FE Smith, he prosecuted Sir Roger Casement for treason.
Cave was made home secretary in Lloyd George’s national government. As such, he was responsible for the Representation of the People Act, 1918, which gave the vote to all adult males and women over 30. He also oversaw the leak of Roger Casement’s ‘black diaries’ (which revealed him to be homosexual) to a leading Irish Roman Catholic clergyman, to blacken Casement’s name. In 1919, he left the Home Office to become a lord of appeal; he would later serve as lord chancellor under Bonar Law and Baldwin. When Labour came to power in 1924, Cave kept the lord chancellor’s judicial role as MacDonald’s lord chancellor, Haldane, was not in good health. In 1925, he was elected chancellor of Oxford university, defeating Asquith. He had already returned to the woolsack under Baldwin, where he remained until his death in 1928.
Cave is hardly remembered now and the 1918 Reform Act was not his. Nonetheless, it was created and passed under his auspices, more than many a home secretary has achieved.