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Two Liberal Prime Ministers

The arena of parliament is central to Britain’s history. Across the floor of the House of Commons and House of Lords some of the great titans of Britain’s political history have clashed. Many historians have written about parliament. This section considers the treatment of two major figures in British politics in the early twentieth century by two different but popular historians, George Dangerfield and A.J.P. Taylor. Politicians dream of achieving a landslide election victory and in 1906 just such a triumph happened to the Liberal Party, one of the two great political parties of the Victorian era, which had achieved greatness under Mr Gladstone and now seemed set to do so again under a new generation of leaders. But Britain in the early years of the twentieth century was going through a period of unrest and conflict as great as the difficult years after Waterloo and which would perhaps not be matched again until the divisions of the Thatcher period in the 1980s. Industry was riven by major strikes, Ireland seemed on the brink of rebellion and civil war, the Suffragette movement was producing scenes of ever escalating violence, and all the while Britain’s relations with Germany were deteriorating as the First World War drew ever closer.

In the end it was the First World War that killed off the old Liberal Party. It went into the war under the leadership of Herbert Asquith, but as the war got bogged down into the agony of the trenches the Liberal Party split and Asquith was toppled in a political coup engineered by his own cabinet colleague, the War Minister and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George.

These two extracts present two suitably different views of these two very different types of Liberal Prime Minister.

George Dangerfield The Strange Death of Liberal England >>
A.J.P. Taylor English History 1914-1945 >>