Asquith And The Home Rule CrisisPresentation Transcript
ASQUITH AND THE HOME RULE CRISIS
CRITICISMS OF HIS STRATEGY
Failed to grasp the important implications of the Parliament Act. He could dictate the terms to the lords if they were included in the original draft of the bill. To try to amend the terms of the bill at the end would put him at the mercy of the Lords (and thus, by implication, at the mercy of the unionists)
Consequently it was vital to make provision for Ulster at the start
Committee spent far too long looking at federal models and making complicated financial provisions for H R
Paid very little attention to Ulster
Potential unionist opposition was under-estimated. Both Asquith and Redmond thought it would evaporate.
He allowed far too much drift, allowing the unionists time and incentive to develop an effective militant strategy outside parliament
By allowing so much time he was also confirming the IPP in their confidence that all Ireland H R would become law, thus making the problem even greater when compromise was required
Failed to consider the Agar-Robartes amendment and gained no capital from it
Wasted time on schemes that would never succeed, eg HR within HR
Failed to respond to the promptings of Lloyd George that Ulster exclusion needed to be considered at an earlier stage
The “conversations” with Law and Redmond during the winter of 1913-14 were pointless and achieved nothing. It was as if he was waiting to see what would turn up, rather than negotiate with any sense of direction or fixed purpose
His treatment of Redmond, eventually wringing more concessions from him, undermined Redmond’s position and led to the increased support for the IVF. This indicated that the problem could well be solved by two military groups in Ireland, rather than in parliament
His position was fatally undermined by the Curragh Incident and the Larne Gun-running. Only then did he realise that his position was one of weakness rather than strength
Buckingham Palace Conference showed the bankruptcy of his policy. If what had been proposed in 1914 had been incorporated in the original bill the unionists would have been in a much weaker position.
Defence of Asquith
The problem confronting Asquith was insoluble. It would be impossible to come up with one set of proposals that would satisfy all of Ireland
The Unionists did not want a compromise. Carson’s aim was to use Ulster exclusion in order to wreck the entire bill.
There was a great deal to be said for Asquith not declaring his hand until he saw what cards the others held.
He was misled by Birrell who kept some information from him and also totally misjudged the depth of Unionist feeling
Also unintentionally misled by Redmond who also underestimated the lengths to which the Unionists would go
No concession offered in 1912 would have been accepted by the IPP anyway
To offer some sort of exclusion to the Unionists in 1912 would also have been pointless. They would never have accepted it
His policy of “wait and see” almost succeeded in wrong-footing the Ulster Unionists. As the crisis dragged on there was the danger that Ulster Unionists would ruin their case by engaging in sectarian behaviour and this happened to some extent in summer of 1912. This was a danger that Carson recognised and took steps to circumvent
Asquith handled George V well and succeeded in preventing him interfering in the crisis
He showed some skill in shifting Redmond from his original position to one by which he acknowledged the necessity of two separate solutions, and tacitly agreed to the exclusion of 4 counties for 6 years.
He recognised that by the spring of 1914 Law, Redmond and Carson were all horrified at the prospect of a violent solution and he played on their fears looking for common ground
(OK! So he left it too late!)
By spring 1914 working against insuperable odds:
- A leader of the opposition who had talked of “things stronger than parliamentary majorities”
- An army which had expressed its unwillingness to obey government orders in specific circumstances
- The existence of two large armed groups, ready to take military action if they disapproved of Asquith’s policy
Conclusion (Totally personal!)
Yes, Asquith must bear the brunt of the blame. “Wait and see” seemed a very inadequate response to a problem of such magnitude
He allowed the situation to drift out of his control and his policies in 1914 seem more like panicky reactions to a crisis that he allowed to develop
His responsibility was to take the initiative. By failing to do so in 1912, he handed the initiative to his opponents in the other parties and was never able to regain it
Admittedly, “wait and see” had been the strategy which had allowed him to achieve his ends in the crisis over the Parliament Act, but when applied to the Home Rule crisis it gave an indication of the inadequate way he would handle the First World War
His fundamental problem, as well as procrastination, was his inability to grasp the strength of feeling in Ireland both for and against Home Rule