Benjamin Disraeli (December 21, 1804 – April 19, 1881), 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, the former two-time Conservative Prime Minister who outside of politics was also a successful novelist and bon viveur. The son of a Jewish Italian writer Isaac Disraeli, he had an Anglican upbringing from the age of 12, after his father fell out with the synagogue. With Jews excluded from Parliament until 1858 this change of religion opened up a career that would otherwise have been denied him. Indeed, he remains the UK’s only Prime Minister with a Jewish background. As a young man he gambled on the Stock Exchange and launched The Representative, a newspaper intended to usurp The Times. When the South American mining bubble that he had invested in burst, he lost all of his money and the newspaper. Instead he turned to writing an anonymously-written satirical novel, Vivian Grey. In 1837 he became MP for Maidstone and in 1841 represented Shrewsbury and after many years on the back benches became Leader of the Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Derby’s Government. After Derby’s resignation in 1868, Queen Victoria invited him to become PM, and they soon struck up a remarkable rapport thanks to Disraeli’s charm and skilful flattery. He was later to tell a colleague, who had asked for advice on how to handle the Queen, “first of all, remember she is woman”. On finally achieving his long ambition, Disraeli declared, “I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole”. However, his first term did not last long, when he lost the general election. Across the Dispatch Box he attacked William Gladstone and the two men built up a fierce rivalry. Disraeli became Prime Minister once again in 1874, aged 70. This was a successful premiership, seeing the passing of a large amount of social legislation: the 1875 Climbing Boys Act reinforced the ban on employing juvenile chimney sweeps; the 1875 Artisans Dwelling Act allowed local authorities to destroy slums, though this was voluntary, and provided housing for the poor. In the same year the Public Health Act provided sanitation such as running water and refuse disposal. When he was made Earl of Beaconsfield by Victoria in 1879, he governed from the House of Lords where he oversaw foreign policy which had became increasingly important, especially the Eastern Question following Turkish atrocities against the Bulgarians. The 1880 election was lost to the Liberals and Disraeli threw himself into the job of opposition, remaining active until a month before his death from bronchitis in April 1881. On his deathbed, he is reported to have said: “I had rather live but I am not afraid to die”. This is one of a cluster of roads named in connection with him.
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