Berkshire, , England
|| September 12, 1852
|Died||February 15, 1928
|Last Modifed||Rob Ritchie|
Jan 03, 2018 01:52pm
English - Liberal - Government Reform - Pro Free Trade - Alcoholic -
|Info||Herbert Henry Asquith |
Liberal politician and lawyer. The last Prime Minister to lead an entirely Liberal cabinet.
Born in Morley (now in West Yorkshire), the son of a wool merchant and mill owner, Asquith won a classical scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford in 1870 and became President of the Oxford Union in his fourth year despite his Liberal affiliation. After graduation he embarked on a legal career and was called to the bar in 1876. Asquith became a QC in 1890, by which time he had already entered politics, having been elected for East Fife at the 1886 General Election. He served as Home Secretary in the fourth Gladstone administration, and also under Lord Rosebery.
By the turn of the century, Asquith had established himself as one of the most powerful members of the Liberal Party and had realistic aspirations of achieving national leadership. Following the fall of the Balfour government in 1905, Asquith was appointed in Henry Campbell-Bannerman's caretaker government, a position confirmed in 1906 following the greatest electoral triumph in the Liberal Party's long history. Following Campbell-Bannerman's resignation in 1908, Asquith became Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Party.
On the Imperialist wing of the pre-war Liberal Party, Asquith was nonetheless able to tolerate the relatively radical social policies of David Lloyd George due, in part, to his belief in the idea of 'National Efficiency'; the idea that increasing the living standards of the working class would improve the stock of the 'British Race' and also the economy.
Asquith's term as Prime Minister was one of the most eventful of the twentieth century; he presided over Lloyd George's creation of an embryonic welfare state and was at the centre of major constitutional crises (over the House of Lords and Home Rule for Ireland). His time in office was also marked by growing political and industrial radicalism, with both the trade union movement and its political offshoot - the Labour Party - growing in influence and (in the case of the former) boldness, while the campaign for votes for women (to which the Asquith government was ultimately opposed) intensified. Most importantly of all, Asquith took Britain into the First World War following the German invasion of Belgium in 1914. Asquith, an alcoholic with rapidly declining political and personal skills, was generally regarded as a poor wartime Prime Minister and he was deposed in the winter of 1916 in a cabinet coup led by David Lloyd George.
Despite remaining the Leader of the Liberal Party, Asquith refused to serve under Lloyd George, their personal animosity contributing greatly to the splitting of the Liberals in 1918. Asquith led the Opposition in the Commons from 1916, and the official Liberal Party into the 'coupon election' called by Lloyd George immediately after the end of the War. Asquith was by this point extremely unpopular, and the official Liberals were massacred in one of the largest electoral landslides in British history, managing to return just thirty six MPs to the Commons. Asquith himself was defeated by a Coalition candidate in East Fife, losing the seat that he had held for thirty two years.
Asquith continued as the leader of the official Liberals and returned to the Commons in 1920 after a by-election in Paisley. His party enjoyed a modest recovering in the 1922 General Election (called after the collapse of the Coalition), taking a total of sixty two seats; nine more than Lloyd George's National Liberals. When the two parties merged, Asquith became the leader of the united party.
The re-united Liberals made solid progress at 1923 General Election (gaining forty three seats for a total of one hundred and fifty eight) but remained only the third largest party in the Commons. Asquith and his party were, however, in a powerful position as the Baldwin government had lost its majority. Asquith made the decision to put a minority Labour government - headed by Ramsay MacDonald - into power, only to bring down the MacDonald government a few months later following MacDonald's decision to suspend the prosecution of Communist journalist J.R. Campbell. The ensuing General Election was fought in an atmosphere of anti-communist hysteria, something intensified by the publication (four days before the poll) in the Daily Mail of the so-called 'Zinoviev Letter' (later proven to be fraudulent). The election saw a massive stampede of middle class voters from the Liberals to the Conservatives and resulted in a landslide victory for Baldwin. The Liberals fell from one hundred and fifty eight seats to just forty and - as in 1918 - one of the casualties was Asquith, who was defeated in his Paisley constituency by a Labour candidate.
Asquith's long political career was finally ended by his second personal defeat; although he remained Liberal leader until 1926 (in which capacity he gave support to the Baldwin government during the General Strike; disagreeing, once again, with Lloyd George) he made no attempt to return to the Commons and was raised to the Peerage as Viscount Asquith of Morley in the West Riding of the County of York and Earl of Oxford and Asquith in 1925.
Member of Parliament for East Fife 1886-1918, for Paisley 1920-1924.
Home Secretary 1892-1895, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1905-1908, Leader of the House of Commons 1908-1916, Secretary of State for War 1914, Prime Minster 1908-1916. Leader of the Opposition 1916-1918, 1920-1922.
Leader of the Liberal Party 1908-1926.