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Sleepwalking to hell

It is usually the generals who carry the blame for the carnage of the first world war. Derek Coombs reconsiders Roy Jenkins's biography of Asquith and argues that the politicians have escaped lightly

By Derek Coombs   March 1998

After the last election New Labour’s landslide was frequently compared with the Liberal landslide of 1906, and Tony Blair’s cabinet with Herbert Asquith’s reforming Liberal cabinet of 1908. The belief that Asquith represented the pinnacle of achievement for a reforming British prime minister has been reinforced by edition upon edition of Roy Jenkins’s biography of Asquith. But is it true? Was Asquith really such a great prime minister? Surely the example of Asquith is a much more sombre one for Blair; by 1914 his large majority had evaporated and he had allowed Britain to drift into a war which led…

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