What was the political impact of the war?
The outbreak of war in August 1914 led to a wave of patriotism and anti-German feeling and all-party support for the Liberal government’s declaration of war. Until May 1915, Asquith attempted to conduct the war through existing structures of party government. Then, on 14th May 1915, the so-called ‘Shell Scandal’ broke when an article was published in The Times claiming that British soldiers were unable to make headway because they were being left short of shells to fire at the enemy. This precipitated a political crisis that led to the creation of a coalition government under Asquith.
Conservatives took up senior positions in the government with Bonar Law as Colonial Secretary and Arthur Balfour as First Lord of the Admiralty (replacing Winston Churchill, whose handling of the Gallipoli campaign made him expendable). Lloyd George took over as head of the new Ministry of Munitions and his position was strengthened in July 1916 when he took over as Minister for War (following Lord Kitchener’s death on a mission on Russia). Lloyd George was popular in the Liberal Party at large, but he had too many personal enemies in the Cabinet. This made it unlikely that he would every succeed Asquith as Liberal leader. The creation of the coalition government changed this and increasingly Lloyd George promoted himself as an alternative War leader. He focused on two issues – the need for conscription (compulsory military service) and the creation of a smaller War Cabinet that, he claimed, would be more efficient and effective. Both brought him into conflict with Asquith.
Conscription was a sensitive issue in the Liberal Party and Asquith tried to reconcile his party’s historical commitment to individual freedom with the demands of total war. His response to Lloyd George’s demand for full conscription was the ‘Derby Scheme’ of October 1915. This compromise allowed the adult male population to be classified by age, marital status and...