During World War II he served as a Captain in the Royal Artillery, and was wounded in Italy. He entered parliament in a by-election for Leeds North in the 1950s, which he remained in until 1987. He became a junior minister in the 1960s at the Ministry of Housing and the Department for Trade. In 1962 he was made Minister for Housing and Local Government, a cabinet position, and introduced a massive program to build council homes. When the Tories returned to government in 1970, he was made Secretary of State for Health and Social Services.
Following the 1974 election defeat, and with Margaret Thatcher he set up the Centre for Policy Studies, and stepped aside to let her become leader. He was given the role of policy maker, and was given the posts of Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1979-1981) and Secretary of State for Education (1981-1983). In the latter role he started the ball rolling for GSCEs, and the establishment of a national curriculum. He stepped down from Parliament in 1983, and was created Baron Joseph of Portsoken. He died eleven years later at the age of 74.