Harold Cox

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Harold Cox

Harold Cox (Tonbridge, Kent 1859 – 1 May 1936) was a Liberal MP for Preston from 1906 to 1909.

Early life[edit]

The son of Homersham Cox, a County Court judge, Cox was educated at Tonbridge School in Kent and was scholar and later fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge where he took a Mathematics degree in 1882.[1] He later lectured on Political Economy for Cambridge University Extension Society in York and Hull.

He also worked as an agricultural labourer in Kent and Surrey for nearly one year in order to discover what life for English labourers was like. He started a communistic farm which failed.[2] He spent two years in India teaching mathematics in the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College (now Aligarh Muslim University) at Aligarh and returned to England in 1887 to read for the Bar, and became a student of Gray's Inn but instead became a journalist. He was secretary of the Cobden Club from 1899 to 1904. After this he was elected as a Liberal for Preston in the general election of 1906, where he campaigned vigorously against the Unionist's proposals for Tariff Reform.

Member of Parliament[edit]

However his tenure as a Liberal MP was not a happy one; Cox was a classical liberal but the Liberal Party was moving away from this to embrace new liberalism during the passage of the Liberal welfare reforms. Cox, almost alone in the Liberal Party, fought against his party's policies of old-age pensions, meals for poor schoolchildren and unemployment benefit.[3] He exclaimed in his Socialism in the House of Commons (1907) that he was against weakening individual and group responsibility. G. P. Gooch, a Liberal MP in support of such reforms, said that Cox "was the only man on the Liberal side who clung to the doctrines of laissez-faire in their unadulterated form. While we saw in the state an indispensable instrument for establishing a minimum standard of life for the common man, he dreaded the slackening of moral fibre as a result of getting 'something for nothing'."[4]

In the general election of January 1910, Cox sought re-election as a free trade candidate in opposition to the official Liberal candidate, Sir John Gorst but came bottom of the poll. He stood as a free trade candidate at the Cambridge by-election in 1911 but failed to win the seat.[5] He was subsequently Alderman of the London County Council from 1910 to 1912 and then editor of the Edinburgh Review to 1929.

Cox also served on a number of committees: the Bryce Commission on German Outrages in 1915, the Committee on Public Retrenchment in 1916 and the Royal Commission on Decimal Currency in 1919.

Stamp's Law of Statistics[edit]

Cox originated the citation which subsequently became known as "Stamp's Law of Statistics": "The individual source of the statistics may easily be the weakest link. Harold Cox tells a story of his life as a young man in India. He quoted some statistics to a Judge, an Englishman, and a very good fellow. His friend said, 'Cox, when you are a bit older, you will not quote Indian statistics with that assurance. The Government are very keen on amassing statistics – they collect them, add them, raise them to the nth power, take the cube root and prepare wonderful diagrams. But what you must never forget is that every one of these figures comes in the first place from the chowkidar [village watchman], who just puts down what he damn pleases.'"[6]


The Labour politician Philip Snowden said of Cox: "There has been no member of the House of Commons in my time quite like Mr. Harold Cox. Mr. Asquith once said of him that he was the sort of man for whom a special constituency ought to be provided to keep him in the House of Commons. He was almost the sole survivor of the old Manchester School. Mr. Cox was a very polished speaker, and stated the case with which he was dealing with great intellectual force...[he was an] incorrigible individualist".[7]


  • Socialism in the House of Commons (1907).
  • Land Nationalisation.
  • Economic Liberty (1920).
  • The Problem of Population (1923).


  1. ^ "Cox, Harold (CS878H)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ In Who's Who 2006 and Who Was Who 1897–2005. Retrieved 23 March 2007, from http://www.xreferplus.com/entry/5342152.
  3. ^ W. H. Greenleaf, The British Political Tradition. Volume Two: The Ideological Heritage (London: Methuen, 1983), p. 96.
  4. ^ G. P. Gooch, Under Six Reigns (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1958), p. 147.
  5. ^ F. W. Hirst, ‘Cox, Harold (1859–1936)’, rev. H. C. G. Matthew, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 ;online edn, Sept 2010, accessed 19 Dec 2010.
  6. ^ Quoted from Some Economic Factors in Modern Life (King and Son, 1929; p. 258) by Sir Josiah Charles Stamp (1880–1941).
  7. ^ Philip, Viscount Snowden, An Autobiography. Volume One. 1864-1919 (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1934), p. 182, p. 191.

Further reading[edit]

  • Charles Mallet, 'Obituary. Harold Cox', The Economic Journal, Vol. 46, No. 183 (Sep., 1936), pp. 562–565.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Kerr
Sir William Tomlinson, Bt
Member of Parliament for Preston
1906January 1910
With: John Thomas Macpherson
Succeeded by
George Frederick Stanley
Alfred Tobin