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Margot Asquith's Great War Diary
on 30 June 2014
Margot Asquith's diary of the opening years of World War I paints a vivid picture of life at the top of British politics from 1914 until her husband's fall from power in 1916.
Sometimes perceptive in her judgement of people and events, but often very wide of the mark, she was deeply (but not always helpfully) loyal to both Asquith and the Liberal cause, which she (and he) saw as being virtually identical and inseparable.
Mostly written alongside the events described, sometimes delayed when time pressed, her writing conveys great immediacy and personal belief to the reader. It is liberally supplied with fascinating, verbatim snippets of conversations with the elite, much as we learn her own conversation was sometimes indiscreet when talking with those who were social friends but political rivals.
We gain the most intimate possible view of the key moments in the final years of Asquith's premiership, from the outbreak of war to parliamentary triumphs such as the imposition of the naval blockade of Germany in response to the ruthless U-Boat policy against even neutral shipping. There is political and party political turmoil over the formation of the wartime Coalition and the introduction of conscription, with both of which Margot (as a staunch Liberal) strongly disagreed.
Within the national tragedy come the deaths of friends, cousins and Asquith's personal loss of his brilliant son Raymond, Margot's step-son, killed at the Somme, and the damage to Asquith's reputation as a war leader when a speech publically revealed his ignorance of the truth about munitions shortages affecting the British army in France. Asquith's eventual fall from office is shocking to both husband and wife as an event that neither of them could ever truly imagine. Lloyd George's increasing reliance on the Conservatives would finally expose the faultlines within the Liberal party, leading to its splitting and eventual near-extinction in Parliament.
The political and social world described in the diary is illuminated by the extensive footnotes by Eleanor Brock, and is presented here in a style which is clear and very readable. A superb 147 page Introduction by Michael Brock explains the Asquiths' personal and political journeys which took them to 10 Downing Street and formed their confident Liberal worldview, which in time may have lead to over-confidence, even complacency - and exit from power. The Diary is followed by a short Epilogue, family trees, a chronology, extensive biographical notes on many of the relatives, friends and political and military figures involved and a comprehensive bibliography and index.
This is really two excellent books in one, the Introduction and the Diary combining to give a rewarding insight into the Asquiths' world and his years in power, the last solely Liberal government and its great Prime Minister, the descent to War and two gifted people struggling to adapt to the loss of imperial certainty and a terrible new reality.