Political Education

Ex-Prime Ministers, Part Two

Henry Campbell-Bannerman:

“Personally I am an immense believer in bed, in constantly keeping horizontal: the heart and everything else goes slower, and the whole system is refreshed.”

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was the first man to be given official use of the title ‘Prime Minister’. Known as CB, he was a firm believer in free trade, Irish Home Rule and the improvement of social conditions. A Liberal MP, he was asked by the King to form a government (as the next largest party) after Conservative PM Balfour resigned in 1905. His government became known for strength and efficiency, and thus went on to win the subsequent 1906 election. Due to ill health, CB resigned in 1908 and tragically died 19 days later. He was replaced by his Chancellor, Herbert Asquith. Major acts included the Probation Act of 1907, which enabled courts to release offenders on probation, as well as establishing probation order and probation officers. It laid the foundations of the modern Probation Service.


Herbert Asquith:

“Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life.”

Herbert Henry Asquith was the son of a Yorkshire clothing manufacturer. He was educated at City of London School and Balliol College Oxford, where he became President of the Union, and was called to the Bar in 1876. In 1886 Asquith was elected as the Liberal MP for East Fife, despite the limitations of being a young widower with 5 children (he had married Helen Kelsall Mellard, but she died from typhoid). He was a strong believer in free trade, Home Rule for Ireland, and social reform, which were all vital issues of the day. A Liberal politician, he also presided over and won the 1911 Constitutional Crisis against the Conservative-dominated House of Lords. As Prime Minister, Asquith presided over a period of national upheaval, with the issues of Irish Home Rule and women’s suffrage dominating the era. He also brought Britain into the First World War. To maximise government support he formed a coalition in 1915, but this government was unsuccessful and unpopular as the war was going badly. The press blamed Asquith’s procrastination for the deadlock on the battlefields. Asquith appeared sidelined when he accepted Lloyd George’s suggestion that a small cabinet committee direct the war, to the exclusion of the Prime Minister himself. His following change of mind led to a rift with Lloyd George which forced Asquith to resign in December 1916, on the same day his Chancellor resigned. The success of Lloyd George’s government consigned Asquith to the political wilderness - a situation made worse by the loss of his seat, and those of many of his allies in 1918. He had enjoyed a very odd position as he stubbornly remained Leader of the Liberal Party, despite lacking a seat. Two years later he won a seat in a by-election, but would not govern again.

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Ex-Prime Ministers, Part One

To really understand where we are today, looking at history is essential. In doing so, we can learn from the mistakes of the past, map patterns to help us make predictions, and expand our knowledge of politics so as to really understand each side. In our latest blog, we’ve put 20th and 21st century Prime Ministers simply: (Please note: some former PMs served more than once – this list is based on the date which they first took office.)

 Lord Salisbury (Robert Gascoyne-Cecil):

“English policy is to float lazily downstream, occasionally putting out a diplomatic boathook to avoid collisions.”

Compared to the flamboyance of Disraeli and Gladstone, Lord Salisbury was a reserved, distant figure, yet he ranks among Britain’s longest-serving prime ministers. Born into an aristocratic family, Lord Salisbury was a descendent of Lord Burghley, a minister of Queen Elizabeth I. A frail child and prone to depression, he developed a love of books and botany. Lord Salisbury was a Conservative politician, known as a sharp political commentator. He served as Prime Minister on three separate occasions, between 1886 and 1902. Lord Salisbury entered the Commons aged 23, in 1853. Salisbury was responsible for the 1889 Naval Defence Act, which committed Britain to ensuring its navy was at least the size of the two next largest navies combined. Salisbury was the last Peer to serve as Prime Minister. He resigned over Cabinet splits due to the 1899-1902 Boer War.


Arthur Balfour:

“I am more or less happy when being praised, not very comfortable when being abused, but I have moments of uneasiness when being explained.”

Arthur James Balfour succeeded his uncle, Lord Salisbury, who had been his political mentor and champion. However, his initial interests were not political. He enjoyed music and poetry, and was first known as a renowned philosopher, publishing ‘A Defence of Philosophic Doubt’, ‘The Foundations of Belief’ and ‘Theism and Humanism.’ A Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905, though many of his most famous acts came in the years after his Premiership – notably the 1916 ‘Balfour Declaration” which committed Britain to the creation of a Jewish-state in Palestine. Major acts included the Unemployed Workmen Act 1905, which established Distress Committees to give out single grants to businesses or local authorities in order to allow them to hire more workers to decrease the number of unemployed. Balfour was also responsible for the Education Act 1902, which abolished school boards and handed over their duties to local borough or county council, as Local Education Authorities. He resigned in 1905 due to defeats in the Commons and in by-elections.

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UK & International Climate Change Policy, Put Simply

UK Climate Change Act 2008

  • Target for 2050: reduce six greenhouse gases by 80% relative to 1990 levels
  • Led to creation of an independent Committee on Climate Change which would advise government on policies needed for the transition to a low-carbon economy
  • Duty of meeting Act’s targets lies with Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (in 2008, this was ex-leader of the UK Labour Party, Ed Miliband MP)

Global climate change policy: Paris Agreement

  • 194 signatories; ratified by 117 parties; signed on the 22nd April 2016
  • Agreement to hold temperatures to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels (or less)
  • However, 1.5 °C is the aspirational target (2 °C = merely the worst case scenario)
  • Also agreed less developed countries would be given finance to help with their transition to a low-carbon economy, without diluting their economic development

Three arguments in favour of tackling climate change

  1. Policies cost money but the cost of not acting could be even greater due to the likely impacts of global warming (worth noting impact would be spatially uneven)
  2. “Green” can also be good for business e.g. installing energy saving light bulbs can reduce both carbon emissions and costs, thus also benefitting.
  3. sustainability: citizens have a moral responsibility to improve global living standards without  compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs and wants.

Three possible complications

  1. World poverty: 1.2 billion people worldwide are estimated to live less than $1.25 a day- challenge is tackling global warming whilst improving global living standards
  2. Tackling global warming requires transboundary cooperation: victory for Trump and Brexit vote arguably illustrates the rise of economic nationalism- realistically, do nation-states have the appetite to work together to tackle climate change?
  3. Vague nature of agreements: nation-states still pursuing GDP growth agendas

Further reading



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