Useful Notes: Herbert Henry Asquith

The longest-serving PM of the 20th century until Thatcher, Asquith's time as PM was interesting to say the least. In his lifetime he was always referred to as "H.H. Asquith".

Succeeding the late Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Asquith's government created the UK's National Insurance system, took the UK into World War I and faced two rather large domestic crises.

The first was over Home Rule in Ireland, an issue which the Catholics favoured and the Protestants strongly opposed. Home Rule was halted in its tracks by the war.

The second was the 1909-1910 Budget Crisis. A rather redistributive budget was vetoed by the House of Lords, sparking a constitutional crisis. Following two elections in the space of a year (which only succeeded in making the Liberals a minority government reliant on Labour and Irish support) a deal was reached in which the House of Lords lost its powers over the Budget and could only delay legislation by two years in a piece of legislation called the 1911 Parliament Act. This was later reduced to one in 1949 and the later Salisbury convention (the Lords doesn't block manifesto commitments) followed.

His time is also notable for the suffragette movement reaching its peak. Many of them employed rather militant tactics, like bombing buildings and attacking the police. When they went on hunger strikes in jail, he passed what is commonly referred to as the Cat and Mouse Act - basically, when they were on the verge of dying, the police would release them from prison and then arrest them again once they reached full health. Some were imprisoned more than a dozen times a year. One suffragette threw an axe at him. While they stopped being so forceful once war with Germany broke out, in the years before 1914 it was practically an all-out war.

Asquith was eventually forced out in 1916 and replaced by David Lloyd George.

He's the great-grandfather of Helena Bonham-Carter.

Known for being perpetually drunk, especially whilst giving speeches, which apparently was no great impediment to his political career. Inevitably, and Punnily, nicknamed "Squiffy".

Depictions in fiction

  • Mentioned tangentially in Downton Abbey: Lavinia Swire's uncle was fictionally a member of Asquith's government and she fictionally broke the Marconi Scandal to Sir Richard Carlisle to protect her family's reputation. This does little to endear her or the Liberals to Sir Richard, or Sir Richard to the Crawleys (who are mostly Tories but are more scandalised by Sir Richard's shadiness than the Liberal government's corruption—especially since the Liberal government isn't trying to mary Lady Mary).