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Haldane and Asquith

William Verity describes how Haldane and Asquith were close political friends and colleagues from 1882 until Haldane was abruptly dropped from office in 1915.

Herbert Henry Asquith and Richard Burdon Haldane were old political allies and friends. But they were very different kinds of men: Asquith intensely ambitious and rather pragmatic; Haldane obsessed with the practical incarnation of the most visionary ideals.

While Asquith was Prime Minister, the time came when he felt forced to deal his old friend a terrible blow by abandoning him to the most vicious attacks as a traitor. The following is the story of their relationship.

Haldane and Asquith were, with Edward Grey, members of a political trio. Asquith and Haldane had met in 1882, when both were briefless barristers, and the friendship was cemented a little later when Haldane spent a long illness at the Asquiths’ house in Keats Grove, Hampstead.

Grey had joined the group not long afterwards. Haldane and Asquith gave annual dinners at the Blue Posts Inn, off Cork St., from 1888 to 1892, at which it was the practice to invite four prominent politicians and four other guests who were distinguished in other ways.

The three shared what was then called an ‘Imperialistic’ outlook—that is to say, they favoured enlightened policies of imperial administration rather than an easy acquiescence in demands for independence. Their imperialism allied them with Rosebery and opposed them to Campbell-Bannerman’s moderate policy towards the Boers in 1901.

Rosebery lost their support when, contrary to the agreed party line, he came out strongly against Home Rule for Ireland in a speech at Bodmin during the delicate pre-election period of 1905. The trio combined their imperialism with a preoccupation with social reform; and it was this, in their early years in the House of Commons, that tended to mark them off as a distinct group within the Liberal Party.

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