He was educated at Rugby School , arriving on the same day as William Temple , a future Archbishop of Canterbury ; they remained friends for life. The experience was to have a profound effect upon him. He realised that charity was insufficient and major structural change was required to bring about social justice for the poor. To fulfil his teaching commitments to the WEA, he travelled first to Longton for the evening class every Friday, before travelling north to Rochdale for the Saturday afternoon class. Tawney clearly saw these classes as a two-way learning process.

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And I knew why. All Hattersleys were Labour. My allegiance was purely tribal — no different in kind or quantity from the devotion I felt for Sheffield Wednesday and Yorkshire County Cricket Club. The idea that I ought to have reasons for supporting the Labour party never entered my head.

My only real ambition was to open the batting for England, but I gradually accepted, without much enthusiasm, that one day I would teach history or English in an old-fashioned grammar school — leather patches on my sports-coat elbows and willingness to help with games on Saturday.

By the time of the general election — in which I worked with a thoughtless partisan loyalty — I had been accepted at Leeds University to read English and Sheffield to read history. My father made me promise that, during my first year, I "would not get involved in politics". Keeping that undertaking, unlike the promise about girls and alcohol, did not seem a problem.

I read Equality during a week spent in a tin hut which we called a holiday bungalow on the Lincolnshire coast. By the time we returned home, my commitment to the Labour party had been transformed from tribal to ideological. From then on, I had no doubt that the good society was the equal society.

I knew, from that summer on, that nothing would satisfy me except a life in politics. And a combination of the old tribal loyalty and the record of the recently defeated Attlee government convinced me that the Labour party provided the best prospect of building the sort of Britain I wanted to see.

I began my long preparation to become a Labour MP by idiotically writing to all the northern universities with the request that they admit me to read economics, and took a copy of Equality with me to Hull. He made serious political philosophy fun and advanced high moral arguments in a way that stripped them of pretension and pomposity.

The parable of the frog and tadpoles ridiculed the false hopes that encourage the acceptance of inequality. Some passages in Equality entranced me by their majestic certainty. The existence of such opportunities in fact, and not merely in form, depends not only upon an open road, but upon an equal start.

Since then infant mortality rates have dramatically declined. But figures published last February by the Office for National Statistics show that the basic inequality remains: the infant mortality rate for "routine occupations and long-term unemployed" was 4.

Medical science progresses, but society remains unequal; and inequality — whatever the prosperity of the nation as a whole — squanders talents, depresses aspirations and diminishes the prospects of poor people.

And the lesson changed my life.


Richard Henry Tawney, fellowship and adult education

Tawney did not believe that the principle of equality of opportunity was inherently wrong; on the contrary, societies only maintained their vitality by drawing on a fresh stream of talent, and exceptional contributions should receive their due. However, the concept had been contaminated by capitalism, transformed from a liberating idea that removed the dead hand of the feudal aristocracy to a justificatory platitude to maintain the predominance of the industrial plutocracy. Such exceptions should not disguise the fact that social outcomes are conditioned by circumstances. The massive inequalities that characterised the capitalism, with the working classes denied an adequate education, unable to access effective health care and housed in slums meant that equality of opportunity was nothing more than a cruel jest, the "impertinent courtesy of an invitation offered to unwelcome guests, in the certainty that circumstances will prevent them from accepting it". What was required was not merely "an open road, but To those who protested that the efforts to establish an equal start would compromise liberty, Tawney responded that real freedom required social justice.


How my support for Labour turned from tribal to ideological

Selections from Equality by R. Most social systems need a lightning-conductor. The formula which supplies it to our own is equality of opportunity. The conception is one to which homage is paid to-day by all, including those who resist most strenuously attempts to apply it.


R. H. Tawney Quotes

Liberty and Equality Liberty and equality have usually in England been considered antithetic; and, since fraternity has rarely been considered at all, the famous trilogy has been easily dismissed as a hybrid abortion. Equality implies the deliberate acceptance of social restraints upon individual expansion. It involves the prevention of sensational extremes of wealth and power by public action for the public good. If liberty means, therefore, that every individual shall be free, according to his opportunities, to indulge without limit his appetite for either, it is clearly incompatible, not only with economic and social, but with civil and political, equality, which also prevent the strong exploiting to the full the advantages of their strength, and, indeed, with any habit of life save that of the Cyclops. But freedom for the pike is death for the minnows. It is possible that equality is to be contrasted, not with liberty, but only with a particular interpretation of it.


R. H. Tawney

Tawney was a noted economic historian, democratic socialist and educator. Here we make a brief assessment of his contribution as an adult educationalist — and his strong belief in fellowship. At Rugby R. At Balliol, he deepened his appreciation of social moralism and joined the Christian Social Union. He joined the Fabians in and left to work at the University of Glasgow as an assistant in economics.

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