It is widely thought, particularly in the Conservative Party, that Disraeli made life significantly better for ordinary people in the late nineteenth century. This is a myth. It was Stanley Baldwin who committed the Conservatives to far-reaching social reform, as his record on housing shows. Alistair Lexden emphasised this point in a letter published in The Daily Telegraph on October 4.
SIR--Benjamin Disraeli did not pass some of the most important legislation to improve housing, as Jacob Rees-Mogg told a meeting at the Conservative Party Conference (Michael Deacon, Sketch, October 2). The claim rests on the well-known Artisans’ Dwelling Act of 1875, which gave local authorities power to pull down slums.
The legislation made little difference. As Professor John Vincent pointed out in his brilliant brief life of Disraeli published in 1990, “not being compulsory, and being rather costly to ratepayers, its practical value was limited.”
The first Tory leader to tackle the country’s housing needs seriously was Stanley Baldwin, the man who invented the famous phrase, “one nation”, wrongly ascribed to Disraeli.
In 1929 at the end of a five-year term as prime minister, he proudly reported that the 930,000 houses built during it “constitute a record in the history of the world.”
Last week a fine statue of this great Tory social reformer was unveiled in Bewdley, Worcestershire, his birthplace and constituency.