Saturday, September 17, 2005

Herbert Asquith (1852 - 1928)

Liberal prime minister of Great Britain from 1908 to 1916, Asquith was responsible for the Parliament Act of 1911 limiting the power of the House of Lords and led Britain during the first two years of World War One.
Educated at Oxford, Asquith became MP for East Fife in 1886. In 1892 Gladstone appointed him home secretary and within three years he had become one of the leading figures of his party. However, in 1895 the Liberals lost power and remained in opposition for the next 11 years. During this time Asquith returned to his legal career, retuning to government in 1906 as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Campbell-Bannerman.
Early in April 1908 Campbell-Bannerman resigned, dying only days later, and Asquith became prime minister. His chief domestic problem was the opposition of the House of Lords to Liberal reforms; abroad there was a growing naval competition with Germany. However, the Lords vetoed Lloyd George's budget of 1909 which would have increased naval expenditure.
In 1910 Asquith announced a plan to limit the powers of the House of Lords, threatening to create enough new pro-reform peers to swamp any opposition. The resulting Parliament Act, passed in August 1911, ended the Lords' veto over financial legislation passed by the House of Commons.
At war from August 1914, Asquith formed a coalition government the following May, admitting Unionists as well as Liberals. However, in 1915 the Dardanelles expedition failed and there was no sign of any breakthrough on the Western Front. 1916 was even worse with the Easter Rising in Dublin, the Battle of the Somme and the consequent massive casualties. The long-awaited introduction of conscription was insufficient to quell dissent and Asquith was under constant media attack. In December he resigned and was replaced by Lloyd George.
In 1925 Asquith accepted a peerage as Earl of Oxford and Asquith and was created a knight of the garter shortly afterwards.


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