Ex-Prime Ministers, Part Two

Henry Campbell-Bannerman:

“Personally I am an immense believer in bed, in constantly keeping horizontal: the heart and everything else goes slower, and the whole system is refreshed.”

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was the first man to be given official use of the title ‘Prime Minister’. Known as CB, he was a firm believer in free trade, Irish Home Rule and the improvement of social conditions. A Liberal MP, he was asked by the King to form a government (as the next largest party) after Conservative PM Balfour resigned in 1905. His government became known for strength and efficiency, and thus went on to win the subsequent 1906 election. Due to ill health, CB resigned in 1908 and tragically died 19 days later. He was replaced by his Chancellor, Herbert Asquith. Major acts included the Probation Act of 1907, which enabled courts to release offenders on probation, as well as establishing probation order and probation officers. It laid the foundations of the modern Probation Service.


Herbert Asquith:

“Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life.”

Herbert Henry Asquith was the son of a Yorkshire clothing manufacturer. He was educated at City of London School and Balliol College Oxford, where he became President of the Union, and was called to the Bar in 1876. In 1886 Asquith was elected as the Liberal MP for East Fife, despite the limitations of being a young widower with 5 children (he had married Helen Kelsall Mellard, but she died from typhoid). He was a strong believer in free trade, Home Rule for Ireland, and social reform, which were all vital issues of the day. A Liberal politician, he also presided over and won the 1911 Constitutional Crisis against the Conservative-dominated House of Lords. As Prime Minister, Asquith presided over a period of national upheaval, with the issues of Irish Home Rule and women’s suffrage dominating the era. He also brought Britain into the First World War. To maximise government support he formed a coalition in 1915, but this government was unsuccessful and unpopular as the war was going badly. The press blamed Asquith’s procrastination for the deadlock on the battlefields. Asquith appeared sidelined when he accepted Lloyd George’s suggestion that a small cabinet committee direct the war, to the exclusion of the Prime Minister himself. His following change of mind led to a rift with Lloyd George which forced Asquith to resign in December 1916, on the same day his Chancellor resigned. The success of Lloyd George’s government consigned Asquith to the political wilderness – a situation made worse by the loss of his seat, and those of many of his allies in 1918. He had enjoyed a very odd position as he stubbornly remained Leader of the Liberal Party, despite lacking a seat. Two years later he won a seat in a by-election, but would not govern again.

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