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A prime minister’s primrose day

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Primrose Day, 19 April, marks the anniversary of the death of Benjamin Disraeli, former British prime minister and first Earl of Beaconsfield.

The primrose was his favourite flower and Queen Victoria would send him bunches from Windsor and Osborne House. On this day, his statue in London’s Parliament Square and his grave in Buckinghamshire are decorated with primroses.

Disraeli was a novelist and bon viveur, but it was as a politician that he achieved lasting fame. He was Britain’s only PM to be born to Jewish parents (although he was to be baptised a Christian). He served as premier for almost seven years in two separate spells.

Disraeli was elected to represent Shrewsbury in 1841, and in 1852 the Conservative premier, Lord Derby, offered him a place in government as Leader of the Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer. But the defeat of Disraeli’s budget in the same year caused the government’s downfall.

When Derby resigned in 1868, Queen Victoria invited Disraeli to become PM and he declared: “I have finally climbed to the top of the greasy pole.” But his first spell as PM was short-lived, since William Gladstone’s Liberals won a general election in the same year.

Disraeli was to face Gladstone across the dispatch box in Britain’s most famous political rivalry for more than 20 years.

Disraeli’s second spell as PM, from 1874 to 1880,  was more successful and he oversaw the passing of a wide range of social legislation that improved the health and lives of working people. In 1875 alone, the Climbing Boys Act reinforced the prohibition of employing children to sweep chimneys, the Artisans Dwelling Act allowed local authorities to destroy slums and the Public Health Act provided for sanitation such as running water and refuse disposal.

Improvements to health and well-being were perhaps Disraeli’s greatest legacy. He once said: “The health of the people is really the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their powers as a state depend.”

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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