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OM Hall of Fame

The Old Marlburian Hall of Fame is designed, by referencing OMs who have achieved something notable, contributing to the progress of human well-being, in arts, sciences, sport, the military or other, to inspire the Marlburians of the present. 

An additional aim is to put the spotlight on someone overlooked, and perhaps lost in the history of the College or the College website.


Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse

My political hero is Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse. Who? I hear you ask. Well it's no surprise you might not have heard of him as he isn't someone you will find much information on even if you Google his name. However you might be surprised to learn after you've read this short piece, just how influential he was in shaping modern politics in Britain.

More specifically I have chosen to write about him because his early life was forged and shaped in Marlborough. He was born in St.Ives, Cornwall in 1864 where his father was Rector but he attended Marlborough College which was of course a school founded to educate the sons of clergyman. Growing up in a time when the disparities between the rich and poor was threatening the stability of countries across Europe and leading to the development of revolutionary socialist movements, he decided to study at Oxford after he left Marlborough and there he became a student and disciple of the great modern Liberal thinker T.H. Green.
Hobhouse became particularly fascinated by the process of social change and how liberal ideas could become reconciled with collectivism. In other words how modern states could serve the interests of communities without disadvantaging the aspirations of the individual. Don't forget there was no Labour Party at this time or a welfare state as we know it today. Drawing on his wide reading of other disciplines like philosophy, psychology, biology and religion he began questioning the social theories of the time and in particular the Liberal Party's minimal approach to the role of the state. Who was going to look after the poor and destitute who were growing in number? Surely the state had to play a more proactive, interventionist role? How could the state underwrite this without disincentivising people's aspirations by taxing them to death!?
After graduating from Oxford, Hobhouse stayed on as a Fellow (1887-97) teaching and writing before moving on to become the first professor of sociology at the London School of Economics (1907-29). In that long, distinguished career, he wrote for the Manchester Guardian and for a short time was political editor of the Tribune. In academic circles he became well known for rejecting the idea of laissez-faire politics, because he believed that a certain degree of universal cooperation was necessary to fulfil the potential of individual men. Before you start thinking he was just an early socialist, be aware that he disapproved of Fabian socialists (Intellectual lefties!) because he believed they fostered a kind of cooperation that might lead to more bureaucracy, which would hinder progress. Many of you might argue he was right!
So what in the end did he achieve and why is it worth remembering and celebrating his contribution to political history? Well it was his ideas which largely influenced the Liberal government of 1906 and led to local authorities providing free school meals for poor children and later for school medical inspections to begin, (although it was not until 1912 that free medical treatment was available). At this time the National Health Service did not yet exist and the poor could not usually afford medical services. To address this, the Liberal Government introduced the National Insurance Act in 1911. The second part of this Act insured workers by giving them seven shillings (35 pence) unemployment benefit a week for a maximum of 15 weeks in any year if they became unemployed. This scheme was also financed through a combination of worker and state contributions to the scheme. In 1908, the Liberals introduced old age pensions which became law in 1909. This Act gave pensions of five shillings per week (25 pence in today's money) at the single rate to persons over 70 whose incomes were less than £21 per year.
Overall, Hobhouse's ideas marked a transition point between old laissez-faire attitudes and those of a more collectivist nature. Although in the grand scheme of things, his writing and ideas only made limited inroads into the problem of poverty, it led to governments becoming much more willing to intervene and help the poor, although the expectation was also that the poor help themselves by making contributions towards their benefits. So the next time you get free healthcare, housing benefits, unemployment benefits or just draw your weekly pension remember it was L.T.Hobhouse that made it possible!
Matt Gow
Politics department

Copyright 2011



Marlborough College, Bath Road, Marlborough, Wilts SN8 1PA