The Right Honourable Edward Heath was Prime Minister of Great Britain & Northern Ireland from 1970 to 1974 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1965 to 1975.

Edward Richard George Heath was born in 1916 and educated at Chatham House School, Ramsgate, and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was Organ Scholar - as a longstanding batchelor of interesting reputation, one can only speculate as to how appropriate this accolade was - and read Modern Greats (philosophy, politics and economics). He was President of the Oxford University Conservative Association, Chairman of the Federation of University Conservative Associations and President of the Union - the university debating society. Upon graduation, he was awarded the Gray's Inn Gerald Moody Scholarship.

During the war he served with the Royal Artillery, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the campaign in north-west Europe. He was awarded the MBE (Military Division) and mentioned in dispatches. After the war he remained in the Territorial Army and commanded the 2nd Regiment of the Honorary Artillery Company from 1947 to 1951.

In 1946, Heath joined the Civil Service, but resigned a year later to work in journalism and merchant banking. He first entered Parliament in 1950 as MP for Bexley, which became Old Bexley and Sidcup in 1974. He was appointed Assistant Opposition Whip in 1951, becoming Lord Commissioner of the Treasury when the Conservatives returned to power later the same year. In 1952 he became Joint Deputy Chief Whip, in 1953 Deputy Chief Whip, and in 1955 Chief Whip and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury. In 1959 he became Minister of Labour and in 1960 Lord Privy Seal, speaking for the Government on foreign affairs. He was in charge of Britain's first application to join the (then) European Economic Community and received the Charlemagne Prize for encouraging international cooperation. In 1963 he was appointed Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Development and President of the Board of Trade.

Heath became the first elected Leader of the Conservative Party while in Opposition in 1965, and Prime Minister in 1970. In 1971, Britain signed the Treaty of Accession to the European Economic Community and Heath was awarded the European Prize for Statesmanship. Six months after the treaty had been signed, Heath permitted the British people a referendum on staying in the EEC under protest as his firmly stated belief was that the people elected government and should abide by its decisions. In the event, the referendum was rigged in that the Vote "Yes" campaign was heavily subsidised by government while the negative campaign was left to private individuals. It should be noted that the Labour Party stood against the treaty of Accession which has been touted as the major reason why they won the following General Election. However, this is the only referendum the people of Britain have ever had on the subject of the European Union and is therefore of at least some merit.

Heath's other awards include the World Humanity Award and the Gold Medal of the European Parliament.

In 1974 and 1975, Heath visited Mao-Tse Tung in the People's Republic of China. After resigning as Party leader (after the disastrous election results) he again travelled to meet China's Chairmen. From 1977 to 1979 he was a member of the Independent Commission of International Development Issues chaired by Willy Brandt.

His main recreations are sailing, in which he has competed at international level, and music he has conducted the London Symphony Orchestra and Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra among others, including orchestras in Germany and the USA. He was also a founder of the European Community Youth Orchestra.

Heath retired in 2001 as Father of the House (an honorary title given to the oldest member of the House of Commons) when he stepped down from Parliament at the last election.

He died on July 17, 2005, of pneumonia.

British Conservative politician
Born 1916 Died 2005

Edward Heath was the Member of Parliament for the constituency of Bexley between 1950 and 2001 (or Old Bexley and Sidcup as it became in 1983) who spent most of the 1950s in the Whips office, but was later the Leader of the Conservative Party between 1965 and 1975, and Prime Minister in the years 1970 to 1974. He is however best remembered as the Prime Minister who took Britain into the European Economic Community, whose trademark toothy grin and heaving shoulders were caricatured by the impressionist Mike Yarwood. He should not, of course, be confused with the other Ted Heath, being the bandleader George Edward Heath (1902-1969).

1. Early Life and Education

Known as 'Teddy' in his youth and 'Ted' in later years, he was born Edward Richard George Heath on the 9th July 1916 at Broadstairs in Kent. His father William was a carpenter who later became a self-employed builder, whist his mother Edith was a former lady's maid before her marriage. The young Edward became a choral scholar at St Peter's School, the local Church of England school, and then won a scholarship to Chatham House Grammar School in Ramsgate. It was at Chatham House that he first demonstrated his devotion to music; he become an accomplished pianist, conducted the school orchestra, and learnt to play the organ. He twice tried and failed to win a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, but he went there as a commoner in 1935 to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics, thanks to some financial sacrifices by his parents and a £90 loan from the Kent Education Committee. His financial pressures were somewhat lessened when he won the Balliol Organ Scholarship during his first term.

It seems that from the very beginning he had a career in politics in mind; his admissions tutor at Balliol was later to recall that Heath had expressed the desire to become a professional politician and Heath himself was to claim that he had decided to become prime minister when he was at grammar school, but "didn't tell the other boys as they might have been jealous". It was certainly at university that he laid the groundwork for his chosen career, becoming president of the Oxford University Conservative Association, chairman of the Federation of University Conservative Associations, and President of the Oxford Union.

Heath was not however an orthodox Conservative at that time. Whilst an undergraduate he had visited Nuremberg in 1937, where he claimed to have brushed Adolf Hitler's arm, and during the summer of 1938 he visited Spain at the invitation of the Republican Government. Having made the acquaintance of the principle Nazi leaders he became convinced of the inevitability of war and an opponent of the appeasement policy of the Chamberlain Government. Thus Heath denounced the Munich agreement of September 1938, and at the famous Oxford by-election of October 1938 supported A.C. Lindsay, then Master of Balliol, who stood as an Independent Progressive on an anti-appeasement ticket rather than the official Conservative candidate, Quintin Hogg.

2. Military career

Heath graduated from Oxford with a second in 1939 and returned to Germany in the August of that year. He was in Leipzig when he heard the news of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and decided to return home, arriving back on the 1st September, only two days before the declaration of war. Although he almost immediately volunteered to join the army he was given permission to join the Oxford Union's three-month debating tour of the United States in October (and apparently briefed by the Foreign Office not to mention the war); returning home in early 1940 and received his call up during the summer of 1940. After training at Storrington in Sussex he was commissioned as a Second-Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery and was assigned in March 1941 to the 107th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, which was based in Chester, but posted to Liverpool to defend the Mersey docks from German air raids. In March 1942 was appointed adjutant of the regiment but it was not until 1944 that he saw serious action.

On the 6th July 1944 the 107th landed under fire at Arromanches and then advanced towards Antwerp; by September they were at Nijmegen fighting to kept open a bridge against a determined German air assault. He later took part in Operation Veritable, the action to capture the land between the Rhine and the Maas and was mentioned in despatches. In September 1945 was transferred as second-in-command of 86 (HAC) HAA - the Honourable Royal Artillery Company (1), and was in effective command of the regiment for three months whilst his commanding officer was away. He later attended the Nuremberg Trials in 1946, and was eventually demobilised in August 1946 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In the same year he was awarded a military MBE as a result of his contribution to Operation Veritable.

3. Post-War Career

Whilst he might have had political ambitions, Heath needed to earn a living. At one time he had contemplated going into the law and had won a scholarship to Gray's Inn before the war made such ideas redundant. After his demobilisation he decided not to pursue a legal career and instead sat the Civil Service exam (he came joint top with Ashley Raeburn) and for the next two years worked in the Ministry of Civil Aviation. He was however obliged to resign his civil service post in 1948 when he was adopted as the Conservative PPC for Bexley, and became the news editor of the Church Times in February 1948 (2). There he was "bored stiff", did not get on with the paper's editor Humphry Beevor, and having displayed no natural flair for journalism left at the end of September 1949 to became a trainee with the merchant bank Brown Shipley.

At the 1950 General Election he succeeded in taking Bexley with a wafer thin majority of 133 (3), and took his seat in the House of Commons as one of a new generation of Conservative MPs which included such names as Ian Macleod, Reginald Maudling, Enoch Powell and Robert Carr, who together formed the One Nation Group. He contributed to the seminal pamphlet One Nation: A Tory approach to social problems, and as a portent for the future, Heath made his maiden speech on the 26th June 1950 in favour of the Schuman Plan and attacked the Labour government for its refusal to participate in negotiations (4).

4. In Government 1951-1964

The General Election of 1951 returned the Conservatives to power and Heath became a junior whip (and decided to resign from Brown Shipley). Within a year he was promoted to Deputy Chief Whip and following the 1955 election he was appointed Chief Whip. It was in this latter capacity that he emerged as a figure of central importance during the Suez Crisis of 1956, when he was instrumental in keeping the party together in support of the government's policy (even though he was personally very critical of said policy.) When Anthony Eden subsequently resigned as Prime Minister, he also appears to have played a major role in propelling Harold Macmillan to the head of the government when, as Chief Whip he offered the opinion that Macmillan would be "highly acceptable to a substantial majority in the House, a majority to which I myself belonged". At the time this was regarded as something of a surprise as many believed that Rab Butler was the front runner, and it has been suggested that Heath was not entirely impartial in his opinion, a quite understandable point of view given the fact that he and Macmillan celebrated the event with a supper of oysters and champagne at the Turf Club (5).

Heath continued to serve as Chief Whip until Macmillan's victory in the 1959 General Election, after which he was promoted to the Cabinet as Minister of Labour, where he spent a relatively tranquil nine months before being promoted once more to the Foreign Office as Lord Privy Seal and effective deputy to the Foreign Secretary Alec Douglas-Home. There he was given the responsibility for negotiating Britain's attempt to join the European Economic Community. Although these negotiations ultimately ended in failure in January 1963 when the French President Charles de Gaulle exercised his veto, Heath emerged with some credit and was awarded the Charlemagne Prize for the "most notable achievement in the services of encouraging understanding and co-operation in Europe" (he spent the prize money on buying himself a new organ) and also the European Prize for Statesmanship.

When Alec Douglas-Home succeeded Macmillan as Prime Minister in October 1963 Heath was made President of the Board of Trade (although he was also given the title of Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development). There he fought hard for the abolition of resale price maintenance, despite the opposition of a large section of the party who feared they would lose the support of the small shopkeeper (6). It was as a result of this piece of economic liberalisation that he was christened 'Grocer Heath' by Private Eye magazine.

5. Leader of the Opposition

After Alec Douglas-Home had led the party to a narrow defeat in the 1964 General Election, Heath retained his place on the front bench were he shadowed George Brown at the Department of Economic Affairs. Douglas-Home subsequently decided to resign the leadership in July 1965 and for the first time in its history the Conservative Party had the opportunity to formally elect a leader. Heath emerged triumphant from a three-cornered fight with the favourite Reginald Maudling and the outsider Enoch Powell. Unfortunately many in the Party soon had cause to regret their decision as Heath's performances in the House of Commons were wooden and unconvincing, and generally suffered in comparison to the Wilsonian rhetoric on the white heat of the technological revolution, and his performances outside the House were generally even worse.

Indeed to be perfectly honest Heath was a disaster as leader, and when Harold Wilson called a General Election in 1966 he was returned to power with a ninety-six seat majority which, from the Conservative point of view, was a considerably worse performance than that managed by Douglas-Home back in 1964. In fact Heath never seemed entirely comfortable as party leader, his backing for Wilson's Rhodesian policy led to a minor revolt within the party, where a vocal minority led by the Marquess of Salisbury spoke out in favour of Ian Smith's white minority regime in Rhodesia (7). Heath's subsequent half-hearted support for the Labour government's Race Relations Bill again brought him into conflict with the Party's right wing and after Enoch Powell delivered his (in)famous Rivers of Blood speech on immigration in April 1968 he felt obliged to dismiss Powell from the shadow cabinet.

From 1967 onwards the opinion polls consistently showed that Heath was personally significantly less popular than his party and there were persistent calls for him to resign. In response Heath proposed the basic formula of trade union reform, tax cuts and spending restraints, a policy prescription which was confirmed when the Shadow cabinet issued a statement after a meeting at the Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon. It was this meeting that led Wilson to herald the emergence of Selsdon Man, a rather overblown claim which was ultimately to Heath's advantage as it bestowed a certain ideological coherence upon his policies which was largely unwarranted.

6. Prime Minister 1970-1974

When Harold Wilson decided to call a general election in the early summer of 1970 it was because the opinion polls now gave Labour a clear lead and thus everyone expected him to win. It was therefore something of a surprise when the Conservatives were returned with an overall majority of thirty on the 18th June. Some regarded the victory as a personal triumph for Heath, and that is certainly the interpretation that Heath himself preferred, as he found himself on the pavement outside 10 Downing Street on the 19th June declaring that "to govern is to serve". (8)

His very first act as Prime Minister was to ban smoking in Cabinet (Heath was a passionate non and anti-smoker in contrast to his opposite number Wilson), although his first (and some would argue only) priority was to take Britain into the European Economic Community (EEC). Negotiations began within a fortnight of the election victory on the 30th June. Terms were announced in the following June and in October 1971 the House of Commons approved the first reading of the bill by 356 to 244 votes. On the 21st January 1972 Heath signed the accession treaty in Brussels, although a woman protestor rather spoiled the moment by throwing ink over him, whilst the ratification of the treaty in Parliament was a close run thing, as the second reading of the bill in February 1972 was passed by a majority of only eight and, thanks to a bankbench rebellion led by Enoch Powell, Heath was forced to rely on the fact that sixty-nine Labour MPs broke ranks to vote with the government. Nevertheless Heath got what he wanted and the United Kingdom became a member of the EEC on the 1st January 1973.

Heath's other preoccupation was the question of Ulster. The Troubles had begun in 1969 with the emerging Civil Rights movement which had provoked a severe reaction from the Protestant majority, which led the Labour Home Secretary James Callaghan to send in British troops in August 1969 in an effort to restore order. Nevertheless the unrest continued and in August 1970 Heath acquiesced in the Stormont government's decision to introduce internment without trial for terror suspects. There were soon suspicions that some of these suspects were being subjected to what was termed as 'intensive questioning', and before long Heath was forced to order that the use of such techniques should cease. Worse was to come when, on the 30th January 1972, thirteen apparently unarmed anti-internment demonstrators were shot dead by paratroopers in Londonderry, an incident remembered thereafter known as Bloody Sunday.

By the following March Heath suspended Stormont and took direct control of the Northern Ireland government which was placed in the hands of William Whitelaw, as the very first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. His search for a solution to The Troubles resulted in the Sunningdale Agreement of December 1973 which ultimately failed in its objective of securing peace in Northern Ireland but resulted in the decision of the Ulster Unionist Party to withdraw from the Conservative whip at Westminster.

7. The Economy and the U-turn

It is often forgotten that Heath was elected on the basis of a manifesto that was essentially laissez-faire in outlook, and certainly more Thatcherite than the manifesto on which Margaret Thatcher herself was first elected in 1979. At the party conference in the autumn following his General Election victory Heath promised "a quiet revolution"; government intervention was to be scaled back and the entrepreneurial spirit promoted. Thus much of the apparatus of economic control erected during the Wilson years was promptly dismantled; the Prices and Incomes Board and the Consumer Council were abolished, a new Industrial Relations Act was promised to reduce Trade Union power, whilst John Davies, former head of the Confederation of British Industries and now Secretary of State for Trade and Industry trumpeted the policy of letting so-called 'lame duck' companies go to the wall.

Unfortunately the election of Heath's government was greeted by a dock strike within the first six months, followed by a strike by the power workers, both of which required a state of emergency to be declared. Heath's solution to such unrest was the Industrial Relations Act 1971 which outlawed certain 'unfair industrial practices' and required secret ballots and a 'cooling-off' period before any strike action could take place. There was to be an Industrial Relations Court and unions would be required to register in order to continue to enjoy legal immunity for their actions as well as certain other benefits. This was opposed by the Trade Unions who adopted the simple but ultimately effective tactic of failing to register with the Industrial Relations Court. The rather farcical saga of the Pentonville Five only served to underline the failure of the Act to have any practical effect, and the government soon effectively abandoned it as unworkable.

As far as the economy was concerned Heath appointed Ian Macleod as Chancellor of the Exchequer, but he unexpectedly died on the 20th July 1970. Macleod's replacement Anthony Barber was, despite his background as a tax lawyer and his unswerving loyalty to Heath, never comfortable as Chancellor and much of what happened afterwards might not have happened had Macleod been Chancellor, as unlike Barber he possessed the intellectual weight and force of character to stand up to Heath. As it turned out Heath had hardly been in power for five minutes before the first of his many infamous U-turns was effected. Despite an express manifesto commitment not to nationalise anything, in January 1971 Heath felt obliged to rescue Rolls-Royce, following which Upper Clyde Shipbuilders was similarly bailed out a few months later in June. Worse was to come, when at the beginning of 1972 the unemployment figures went over the million mark. Heath panicked, abandoned his previous policies, and launched a programme of economic expansion and government intervention designed to reflate the economy. Selsdon Man was forgotten as the Conservative Party began what Tony Benn cheerfully called its "spadework for socialism". Under the 'Barber Boom', public expenditure rocketed, there was a credit boom, a property boom, and a banking boom as public money poured out in all directions.

Having previously dismantled Labour's income and price controls he now rebuilt them. In September 1972 a new Prices Commission and Pay Board was established. Heath's attempt to legislate against inflation thus began in November 1972 with a ninety day statutory freeze on wages and prices followed by two further stages in April 1973 and in October 1973 which specified strict limits on the level of permitted pay increases. However the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) declared that they did not consider themselves bound by such restrictions and having already outsmarted the government in 1971-1972 they felt confident of doing so again and began an overtime ban in November 1973 in pursuit of their wage claim, which was later extended into an all-out strike in January 1974.

8. The year of the two elections

Given the quadrupling of the oil price in 1973 the NUM knew they were onto a good thing and announced a work to rule in pursuit of their claim for higher wages. On the 13th December the government announced a three-day week in order to conserve coal stocks and prevent power cuts, but this only served to heighten the sense of crisis engulfing the government. When the miners decided to strike in January 1974, Heath dithered for a while and then decided to call an election for the 28th February 1974 on the question of 'Who Governs Britain?' The British electorate gave something of a mixed response; whilst the Conservatives received 300,000 more votes than Labour, they won only 297 seats compared to Labour's 301, with fourteen Liberals, twelve Ulster MPs, nine assorted Nationalist and two Independents. Since no single party commanded a majority, Heath initially refused to give up the reins of power, and spent a week in fruitless negotiations with the Liberal Party. Hence it not until the 4th March 1974 that he finally resigned as Prime Minister and was replaced by Harold Wilson at the head of a minority Labour government. (9)

Given the inconclusive nature of the election results it was almost inevitable that there would be another election within a matter of months. Wilson decided to go back to the country in October to seek a more decisive mandate. Heath campaigned on a call for national unity, but his call went unheeded as the second election of 1974 resulted in a further swing to Labour with Harold Wilson winning his desired overall majority.

9. Heath and Thatcher

It does not appear to have occurred to Heath that having failed to win three out of the four elections he'd contested as leader that he ought to resign, and indeed as the rules stood at the time there was no specified method for forcing him to do so. Indeed it was Heath himself who agreed to the adoption of revised rules that allowed a challenge to be made, but such was his self-belief at the time that he did not believe that he could be beaten. Indeed he might have been excused for thinking that was the case. The most obvious challengers were not available; Enoch Powell was no longer even a member of the party and Keith Joseph had ruled himself out after some rather unwise remarks on the subject of birth control. The other senior figures in the party were too closely aligned to Heath to mount a convincing challenge and thus it was left to the relatively unknown figure of the former Secretary of State for Education, Margaret Thatcher to step forward. The first ballot took place on the 4th February 1975, when Thatcher received 130 votes to Heath's 119 with Hugh Fraser trailing in third place with 16 votes. This defeat was a profound shock to Heath and one from which he never fully recovered.

Now relegated to the backbenches Heath took a leading part in the campaign to secure a 'Yes' vote in the 1975 referendum on the Common Market (as indeed, lest we forget, so did Margaret Thatcher) and was no doubt overjoyed when the 'Yes' vote carried the day with 67% of the vote. Of course Margaret Thatcher went on to lead the Conservatives to victory in the 1979 General Election. Heath later put about the story that he had refused to serve in Thatcher's government, however the truth was that he had expectations of being offered a place in her cabinet as Foreign Secretary and was bitterly disappointed when she only offered him the post of ambassador to the United States; an offer which he apparently declined with a certain amount of disdain.

Heath now began what has been described as the longest sulk in history and spent much of the remainder of his life spluttering with incoherent rage at whatever policies the Thatcher government were advocating at the time. He objected to her economic policies (never mind their similarity to those he had been advocating in 1970), he objected to her pursuit of military victory in the Falklands War, he objected to privatisation, her refusal to countenance an incomes policy, he objected to the sale of council houses, but more than anything he objected to the fact that Thatcher was a political success and kept winning elections. Indeed he never forgave the woman who defeated him, and became increasingly pompous and sour as his "gracelessness assumed an almost heroic quality". In consequence he became an increasingly isolated figure within the party, as even those who sympathised with his views found themselves alienated by the manner in which he chose to express them. Whatever support he might have had in the party rapidly dwindled away to nothing.

10. The International Statesman

As Heath became an increasingly isolated figure on the domestic political scene he turned to the wider world. In later life he claimed to have visited every country in the world with the notable exceptions of North Korea, Bolivia and Paraguay, and appears to have seen himself as an international statesman dispensing his brand of wisdom across the world. But although he became a member of the North-South Commission headed by Willy Brandt in the years 1977 to 1980, he was never given any kind of formal role. It was therefore as an entirely self-proclaimed expert on China that he became one of the leading apologists for their Communist regime. His response to the Tiananmen Square massacre was simply "There was a crisis after a month in which the civil authorities had been defied. They took action. Very well." Similarly when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, he simply claimed that Hussein had "made a misjudgement about Kuwait", and argued the need for a negotiated settlement. As the journalist Michael White put it, there "was recurring evidence that he could be insensitive to democratic demands and insufficiently wary of authoritarian regimes", as he took on the role of chief apologist for sundry oppressive regimes around the world.

He appears to have been rather disappointed that the post of Chancellor of Oxford University, which became vacant with the death of Harold Macmillan in 1987, went to Roy Jenkins, although he was later cheered by the news of Thatcher's resignation in November 1990, which he is reputed to have greeted the with the words "Rejoice! Rejoice!" and bought his staff champagne. He subsequently came out in favour of John Major, and apparently took "great pleasure" at being awarded the Order of the Garter in 1992, but once Major abandoned the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992, he reverted to type, and once more began sniping at the government from the sidelines.

Having become the Father of the House in 1992 as the longest continuously serving member of Parliament, on the 24th October 2000 he announced his intention to retire from the Commons at the end of that Parliament, and thus did not stand at the General Election of June 2001. Having served in the House of Commons for fifty-one years he declined the customary peerage due to former Prime Ministers and retired from politics. In one final ironic twist, his replacement at Bexley was Derek Conway, a noted Eurosceptic. By this time his health had deteriorated, indeed having become considerably fatter in his old age he could only walk with some difficulty, and was described by one journalist as "lumbering like an ailing panda". In August 2003 Heath was on holiday in Austria when he suffered a pulmonary embolism. He returned home for treatment at the King Edward VII Hospital for Officers in London, but never seemed to have fully recovered, and was rarely seen in public thereafter. He subsequently died of pneumonia died on the 17th July 2005.

11. Music and Sailing and Books

Outside politics, Heath was a keen sailor who became an international class yachtsman. He owned a succession of yachts all bearing the name Morning Cloud which for a time became as familiar to the public as Heath himself. He won the Sydney-Hobart race in 1969 and in 1971 even found the time to captain Britain's winning Admiral's Cup team, and was later a member of the 1980 Sardinia Cup team. He did however suffer the misfortune of losing two of his crew, including his godson, when one Morning Cloud sank off the south coast in 1974.

Heath was certainly keen on music, although whether his musical talents rose above the standard of the gifted amateur are debatable, but he nevertheless took the opportunity to conduct whenever possible, especially with the European Community Youth Orchestra of which he was the president between 1977 and 1980, and once recorded the Beethoven Triple Concerto with the English Chamber Orchestra. He was also a member of the council for the Royal College of Music between 1961 and 1970 and the chairman of the London Symphony Orchestra Trust from 1963 until 1970 and was later vice-president of the Bach Choir.

Freed from the burdens of political office Heath also wrote (or at least dictated) a series of books. Sailing: A Course of My Life (1975), Music: A Joy for Life (1976), Travels: People and Places in My Life (1977) and Carols: The Joy of Christmas (1977) appeared in rapid succession, whilst his autobiography, The Course of My Life (1998) involved years of research by dozens of researchers and writers (some of whom he never paid). His books earned him a considerable amount of money which he used in 1985 to acquire Arundells, an eighteenth century house in the Cathedral Close at Salisbury. The vast bulk of his £5 million estate was used to endow a charitable trust established to preserve Arundells.

12. Heath's legacy

Edward Heath was the first properly democratically elected Leader of the Conservative Party and even old enemies such as Thatcher praised his efforts in modernising the Party and helping shake off the taint of aristocratic privilege, whilst to those enthusiastic pro-Europeans he was the man who will forever be credited with the achievement of ensuring Britain's membership of the European Union. Nevertheless few administrations in modern British history have been as disastrous as that of Edward Heath's in the years 1970 to 1974, and one can almost sympathise with the confused efforts of his Labour successors to pick up the pieces he left behind. One should not forget that his administration inherited from Roy Jenkins, (an early convert to the doctrines of monetarism), that particularly rare beast, a budget surplus. It took the most economically inept performance ever by a British government to wreck this inheritance. However what was most damning, was the chasm that lay between the policies on which he was elected and those which he actually put into effect. As Dennis Healey later wrote, "no Prime Minister has ever reversed the whole thrust of his policies as fast and completely as Heath", adding, no doubt with tongue firmly in cheek, that Heath "abandoned his Thatcherism lock, stock, and barrel". The sad truth is that whenever there is a poll of the country's 'greatest prime ministers' or 'greatest party leaders', Heath's name is assured to come close to the bottom if he is mentioned at all.

Strangely enough for the leader of a major political party he was described as "an astonishingly inept communicator" whose "speeches were wooden in delivery and banal in phrasing", although it has been said that he improved over time, and neither did he appear to have been all that successful at establishing the kind of personal relationship with his colleagues that one imagines all politicians endeavour to establish. Indeed Heath was, as one account puts it, "not exactly a rounded personality" who was possessed of "more force than charm", whilst there was something almost sociopathic about Heath's utter inability to understand other people's point of view. This has been put down to the fact that as an only child he had very much a spoiled childhood, being doted on by both his parents, and simply came to believe that the world did indeed revolve around him. At Chatham House he was a school prefect who took an evident delight in punishing his contemporaries for every minor infraction of the rules, a role that he subsequently reprised during the nine long years he spend in the whip's office between 1951 and 1960. It was apparently during his time in the whip's office that he formulated his famous dictum that there were three kinds of Conservative MPs, "shits, total shits and absolute shits", and over the years he seems to have conducted himself in accordance with this formula. As time went on the roll call of Conservative MPs who had been treated as 'shits' grew longer and longer, as evidenced by the many who eagerly took their opportunity to exact their revenge in 1975.

As his obituaries stated he was a "confirmed bachelor" who "never married". Naturally this has led to some speculation regarding his sexuality and various lurid tales have sometimes circulated, none of which appear to have any foundation. As it happens Heath had a childhood sweetheart in Kay Raven, the daughter of the local doctor from Broadstairs. She apparently waited patiently for him throughout the war and it was expected that the pair would marry. Heath however simply never got round to proposing and she got tired of waiting and married someone else. Nevertheless Heath kept her photograph by his bed for the remainder of his life. Heath's failure to marry or indeed form any kind of close relationship with a member of the opposite sex, appears to be more down to sheer ineptitude rather than inclination.

However one of the most curious things about Heath was that he was the only post war British Prime Minister that the Americans didn't like. Indeed Walter Annenberg, the US ambassador, appears to have seen Heath as "a kind of British Gaullist", and ensured that he was excluded from talks between the United States and both China and the Soviet Union. The Americans were apparently glad to see the back of him and much happier to see Harold Wilson back in charge.


NOTES

(1) The Honourable Royal Artillery Company is one of the the oldest and most "socially exclusive" regiments in the British Army. Heath retained his connection with the HRAC when he later became a Territorial officer, and was Master Gunner at the Tower of London in 1951-1954.
(2) It was the Oxford University Appointments Board who pointed Heath in the direction of the Church Times which was short of staff at the time, and hired him on a salary of £650 a year, which was £200 more than he had been getting as an assistant principal in the civil service.
(3) Bexley was earlier the scene of the the so-called 'bread-rationing byelection' in 1949 where Heath reduced the Labour majority in Bexley from 11,000 to 1,000. Although Heath won Bexley at the subsequent General Election, his majority of 133 votes was somewhat less than the number of votes won by a certain Mr Job, the Communist Party of Great Britain candidate. Heath is known to have often toasted Mr Job in thanks for this assistance.
(4) It was the Schuman Plan led to the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Confederation which later led to the formation of the European Economic Community, now known as the European Union.
(5) It has been said that Heath was ill disposed towards Rab Butler because of the latter's supposed role in supporting appeasement in 1930s. If this was the case then it does not seem to have bothered Heath that Alec Douglas-Home was even more closely connected with appeasement, having been Chmaberlain's Parliamentary Private Secretary.
(6) Resale Price Maintenance permitted manufacturers to set the price of their goods and prevented retailers from selling at a discount if they so chose. On the 23rd March 1964 the government only won a key vote on the Resale Prices Bill by a single vote; it was said that the rebels could have won, but decided to reduce the government majority to this symbolic level to register their disapproval.
(7) The Rhodesian Government, led by Prime Minister Ian Smith, made an Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) on the 11th November 1965.
(8) Various explanation have been put forward to explain Labour's defeat at the 1970 General Election. Some have blamed a poor set of trade figures occasioned by the purchase of two jumbo jets, whilst others have blamed England's defeat by West Germany in the quarter finals of the World Cup. More reasoned observers give credit to Enoch Powell whose populist views had attracted considerable support from traditionally Labour voters.
(8) The fact that the Conservatives could no longer rely on the support of the Ulster Unionists, who had previously accepted the Conservative whip was crucial, since otherwise they would have been the largest party.


SOURCES

  • John Campbell, Edward Heath: A Biography (Jonathan Cape, 1993)
  • Obituary: Sir Edward Heath, Daily Telegraph 18/07/2005
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/07/18/dba1801.xml
  • Obituary: Sir Edward Heath, Sir Edward Heath The Times July 19, 2005
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,60-1698665,00.html
  • Francis Boyd and Norman Shrapnel The Guardian Monday July 18, 2005
    politics.guardian.co.uk/conservatives/ story/0,9061,1530831,00.html
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    http://news.independent.co.uk/people/obituaries/article299884.ece
  • The Incredible Sulk, Daily Mail 18th July 2005
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  • Dr Bernard Palmer and staff reporter, Obituary: Sir Edward Heath, The Church Times
    http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/churchtimes/website/pages.nsf/httppublicpages/EE8DC3E1C7E2D53B80257044003C9636
  • James Langton, US blamed rift with Britain on 'Gaullist' Heath, Daily Telegraph, 14/05/2006
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1518354/US-blamed-rift-with-Britain-on-%27Gaullist%27-Heath.html

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