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1918 Liberal Party General Election Manifesto

Herbert Asquith's election address

It was in the summer of 1886 that I was first elected member for East Fife. Our boundaries have now been enlarged, and I appeal to the new constituency to grant me a renewal of the confidence which I have enjoyed for an unbroken term of more than thirty-two years. The Parliament in which has just been dissolved has been one of the most remarkable in our history. It carried through a series of great political and social changes, and in its later years had sanctioned and sustained to the end with patriotic unity our national part in the Great War. During most of those stirring events it was my privilege to be First Minister of the Crown. It was while I held that office that our Empire entered the war; that our vast voluntary armies, largely through the genius and energy of Lord Kitchener, were raised and organised; that Italy became associated with us as an Ally; that the Military Service Act was passed into law; that the enemy's cruisers and merchant ships were driven from the seas and his ports blocked; and that by rigorous taxation, as well as the use of our unrivalled credit, we were enabled not only to bear our own burden, but substantially to lighten that of our fellow combatants. Throughout the war, whether in or out of office, I have supported every measure for its efficient and successful prosecution. Hostilities have now been brought to a glorious end, and it is impossible to overstate the decisive importance of the part played in the struggle by our own Navy, our Army , our Air Force, and our Mercantile Marine. We can also look forward with confidence to the complete attainment of the common purpose which I set forth on behalf of the Allies at the beginning of the war, and to the bringing into being of a League of nations, which will, we hope, secure the peace of the world and the reign of international justice and humanity.

With peace we must set our own hous in order. We must be on our guard to make secure what has already been won. There must be no tampering with the essentials of Free Trade. Self-government for Ireland must be promptly translated from what it is already - a statutory right - into a working reality. Temporary restraints necessary in war upon personal liberty and the free expression of opinion must be removed without delay. The ties which unite us to our fellow-subjects in the great Dominions have been strengthened by our comradeship in the efforts and sacrifices of the war. Peace will bring with it a call and a stimulus to the inter-Imperial development of our common counsel, without any impairment of complete local autonomy. To India we owe an early redemption of the pledges which with the assent of all parties, have been given by the Imperial Government.

In the field of creative reform at home, social and industrial - our first duty is owed to those who have won us the victory and to the dependants of the fallen. In the priorities of reconstruction they have the first claim, and every facility should be given them not only for reinstatement, and for protection against want and unemployment, but for such training and equipment as will open out for them fresh avenues and new careers. The war has cleared away a mass of obstructive prejudices and conventions, and with peace will come a realisable prospect of a new and better ordered society. Some of the earliest and most practical steps to be taken in regard to land, housing, health, temperance, the future conditions of industry, were recently indicated by me at Manchester. I summed up their general purpose in the following words:-

'In every chapter of reconstruction I should be prepared to adopt for myself, and to recommend to my friends, as an appropriate watchword the formula of a national minimum. In concrete terms, I understand that to mean that we ought not to be content until every British citizen - man, woman, and child - has in possession or within reach a standard of existence - physical, intellectual, moral, social - which makes life worth living, and not only does not block, but opens the road to its best and highest possibilities.'

But I am not bound (as none of us should be) to any cut-and-dried programme. I will give wholehearted support, reserving in regard to particular measures complete freedom of judgement and action to any policy from any quarter, Liberal, Unionist, or Labour, which proceeds on these lines, and is animated by this spirit. The best security for the successful prosecution of such a policy is that, in accordance with our traditions, it should be subject to full scrutiny in the free atmosphere of a representative House of Commons. For that purpose it is essential that every elector should claim and should exercise unfettered liberty of choice.

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