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A Short Guide to H H Asquith's First World War

Herbert Henry Asquith (1852-1928) was Prime Minister of Great Britain between 1908 and 1916.

His pre-war liberal government laid the foundations of today's welfare state introducing pensions and unemployment insurance. Social reforms and the re-armament of the Royal Navy, necessitated an increase in tax which provoked a clash with the House of Lords.

Although convinced of the legitimacy of Britain's declaration of war against Germany in 1914, Asquith was reluctant immediately to extend government power to create an economy suited to fight an industrial war on a vast scale.

His 'business as usual' approach was accompanied by a process of decision-making in which Asquith deliberately and respectfully acknowledged the expertise of his military commanders.

In May 1915, after reports of munitions’ shortages on the Western Front, squabbles between Lord Fisher and Winston Churchill at the Admiralty, and failures at Gallipoli, Asquith was forced into a coalition government with the Conservatives.

But he remained the focal point for blame for all military, naval and policy setbacks. He was increasingly sidelined in strategic decision-making and ultimately outmanoeuvred by Lloyd George.

Asquith resigned as Prime Minister on 5 December 1916.