He never said it: Disraeli and One Nation

Over and over again journalists and others attribute the phrase “one nation” to Disraeli. It is one of the most widespread of all the historical errors that are made.

Alistair Lexden regularly corrects the error. He did so at some length in an article, published on 23 December (see below).

The error appeared again in The Economist on 4 January. In a letter published on 1st February—the first he has had in The Economist—Alistair Lexden pointed out once more the phrase was coined by Stanley Baldwin in a speech in 1924. Disraeli spoke of the existence in Britain in the 1840s of two nations, the rich and the poor. He did not predict that they would ever be united.

It was only after the Second World War that the Conservative Party began to attribute “one nation” to Disraeli. His great fame gave the phrase more power and greater public appeal, as it began to be used repeatedly by Tories.

The Economist letter restated two points in particular:  that Disraeli’s “one nation” Conservatism has served the Party well as a useful historical fiction, and that if “one nation” truly inspires Boris Johnson’s policies, he will be recreating the Party in the image of Baldwin, not Disraeli.