Asquith by Roy Jenkins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I never got why Asquith was so consistently overlooked as a national figure.

If anyone ever talks about great Liberal Prime Ministers it’s always Gladstone this and Lloyd George that, poor old Squithy never gets a look-in.

As one of the few figures of consequence to actually come from Leeds, we should be bloody well talking him up, not letting Lloyd George overshadow him.

This biography is a bit old-fashioned and shallow. It’s good, and readable, and tells the story with minimal focus on childhood, and maximum focus on his time in Number 10, which is the right balance (reading about other people’s childhoods is almost as boring as reading about other people’s dreams).


What’s missing is how he succeeded.

It tells you that he was a successful Home Secretary under Gladstone and then Rosebery, and then as Chancellor under Campbell-Bannerman, and how he was already being talked about as the obvious next leader of the party. This is all very well and everything, but I want to know what he was doing that made his rise to the top so rapid, consistent and successful.

It talks about how well Bonar Law and others regarded his skill as a political leader, as chair of the Cabinet, as a national figure in complete control of parliament, but not a sausage about what he was doing to achieve all of this.

I suspect Jenkins didn’t really know, and this lack of analysis made it feel more like an anthology of stuff already out there rather than anything new or insightful.

I will do more research and write more about what he did that made him such a success (and what he did wrong that led to his downfall).

Also, having read some other stuff about the great man, this account was uncritical to the point where it glossed over his drinking and affairs, and if I knew this much, what else was it glossing over that I didn’t know?

I know from reading about Jenkins that he did this out of respect for the Bonham-Carter family, but glossing over stuff does not a compelling biography make.



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