Posts Tagged ‘Asquith’

Labour history uncut: Lloyd George topples Asquith as Labour sit tight in government

10/02/2013, 03:28:22 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

On the 13th November 1916 the battle of the Somme finally ended. Since its launch at the start of July, the British army had suffered 420,000 casualties to advance a grand total of 5 miles.

This rate of attrition revealed that the army’s brilliant “more men forward” approach would indeed get us to Berlin, just as long as we didn’t mind taking another 48 million casualties on the way.

A quick head count of the British population (46 million) led people to suspect the wisdom of this military strategy, despite the resolute self-confidence of generals.

Even Arthur Henderson and the Labour party, however much they tended to go weak at the knees for a man in uniform, had doubts. But as minor members of the government, there wasn’t a whole lot they could do. The sight of Labour men questioning the war effort could easily be mistaken for a lack of patriotism and they were getting enough criticism on that front already thanks to the barbs of Ramsay Macdonald and his anti-war chums.

Instead, Labour opted to stay quiet and look hopefully to prime minster Asquith for some inspiring leadership.


What they got instead in November 1916 was Asquith asking the cabinet to jot down any ideas they might have about what to do for “Herbert’s big book of war-winning notions.” As leadership goes, it wasn’t exactly “Once more unto the breach dear friends.”

Things got worse when Tory grandee Lord Landsdowne, did jot his ideas down. They weren’t exactly what Asquith was hoping for.

“[the war’s] prolongation will spell ruin for the civilised world, and an infinite addition to the load of human suffering which already weighs upon it.”

He put this upbeat prognosis in a letter he offered to the Times, to perhaps publish for a bit of fun alongside the horoscopes and sudoku. The Times was appalled by what they saw as the anti-British letter and refused to publish it, as they believed any decent paper would.

The Telegraph happily ran it.

Lord Landsdowne shows the sunny demeanour that inspired his famous letter


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