Getting Squithy with it: what can we learn from Asquith?

This blog isn’t just about contemporary leaders, it also looks back at history, and what we can learn from leaders in the past.

I find this especially interesting – partly for the hell of it, my geekiness extends beyond politics into history (and other things, but let’s keep the focus tight) – and also because I believe that although we may be doomed to repeat history, we should at least try to only repeat the good stuff.

Herbert Henry Asquith is an interesting character.

A long-serving PM, largely overlooked because he was shoved out the way by the more glamorous and extrovert David Lloyd-George – but actually Asquith served longer, was far more respected and liked, was successful for most of his time in the top job, and – perhaps most importantly – is the only PM we’ve ever had from my hometown of Leeds.

He was a successful Home Secretary under the Earl of Rosebery and then Chancellor of the Exchequer under Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and was the inevitable choice for PM when Campbell-Bannerman fell ill and died in office.

In fact he was the inevitable choice when Campbell-Bannerman succeeded in 1906 – there was an effort to kick CB upstairs into the Lords and let Asquith take over immediately, but his respect for the party leader led him to patiently wait his turn.

How did he become the undisputed obvious choice, and then such a dominant and confident figure for almost two decades?

And then, how did he lose it all, getting out-outmaneuvered by Lloyd-George and abandoned by his Conservative coalition partners?

I’m going to look at five things he got right, and then three things he got wrong that contributed to his downfall.

Continue reading “Getting Squithy with it: what can we learn from Asquith?”
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The end of May: why Theresa May was a rubbish leader

It’s harsh to say that Theresa May has been the worst Prime Minister in my lifetime, but it’s also true.

It’s not fair, because she is also the Prime Minister who got handed the most difficult gig since World War II. In more benign circumstances she might have outshone John Major or Alec Douglas-Home or Ted Heath or Jim Callaghan … but we’ll never know, because she got handed a burning platform of toxic crap by a fractured party, and was expected to lead a divided nation through a potentially disastrous policy that she had opposed.

Would Anthony Eden or Harold Wilson or Gordon Brown have done any better?

I didn’t expect her to be so bad.

When she took office back in 2016, I would have put (a small amount of) money on her being the right person for the job.

She is a serious, clever, dedicated, and hard-working politician, and was head and shoulders above the other candidates.

Admittedly, this is probably a case of the one-eyed woman being Queen of the blind, but even so, even without the flattering backdrop of her rivals, Ken Clarke’s description of her as a “bloody difficult woman … but she is good” sounded like the right mix of attributes for a PM in such interesting times.

So what went wrong?

Lots of things, but I have rounded it down to the big three:

Continue reading “The end of May: why Theresa May was a rubbish leader”
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