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George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England: Extract

In this extract Dangerfield describes the scene in the House of Commons as the Prime Minister, Mr Asquith, faced with the prospect of crippling strike action by the miners, addresses members on the Third Reading of the bill meeting their demand for a minimum wage:

When the Bill went through its third reading, a curious scene took place, and Mr Asquith was the chief actor in it. He was on his feet, speaking, not so much to the apprehensive faces before and around him, as to the miners themselves. He begged them to stay the havoc with which the country was confronted; he recited once again the efforts that had been made, how hopes had risen and hopes had been shattered. ‘We laboured hard’, he said. He turned to the packed Labour benches. If their case for the five shillings and the two shillings was strong, would they not trust the district boards to provide these rates? Must the country be subjected to further hardship? ‘I speak under the stress of very strong feeling,’ he went on; and hesitating between words – he, who was always so impassive, so lucid – begged Parliament to pass the Bill. ‘We have exhausted all our powers of argument, of persuasion, of negotiation’, he concluded, in low thick halting tones. ‘But we claim we have done our best in the public interest – with perfect fairness and impartiality’. He stood there, struggling for words; and they would not come. The House watched him, fascinated and appalled: something was taking place before its eyes which not one of its members had ever expected to see. The Prime Minister was weeping.

George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England (London: Paladin, 1966) p.261.

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