|The Rt Hon Edward Heath
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
June 19, 1970 – March 4, 1974
|July 9, 1916
Broadstairs, Kent, England
|July 17, 2005, age 89
Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
|Balliol College, Oxford
|Church of England
Sir Edward Richard George Heath, KG, MBE (July 9, 1916 – July 17, 2005) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1974 and leader of the Conservative Party from 1965 to 1975. Heath's accession represented a change in the leadership of the Conservative party, from senior figures such as Harold Macmillan to the self-consciously meritocratic Ted Heath, and later, Margaret Thatcher. Heath was an early advocate of European union and of the common market system, and was responsible for the United Kingdom's entry into what was then the European Economic Community, now the European Union. This is generally recognized as his most significant political achievement. He was, in addition to being a successful politician, an author, a musician, a prize-winning yachtsman and a deeply committed Christian. After losing leadership of his party, Sir Edward Heath's voice was often one of dissent within Conservative ranks, remaining pro-European when his party was skeptical about Europe and favoring power-sharing and cooperation instead of confrontation.
Although he refused appointment as Ambassador to the United States in 1979, he remained active on the international scene and perhaps enjoyed more popularity in this role than he did as Prime Minister. He was a member of the Brandt Commission on International Development (1977-1983), later becoming a member of the Centre for Global Negotiations which developed from the Commission's work. The Brandt Commission made a major contribution to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. In 1990, he met with Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, to negotiate the release of British hostages. Heath was not outspoken, although he did write about his Christian values. He favored debt relief for the developing world, reducing protectionist practices, encouraging developing nations to invest in education and health care, not in arms, and in international control of energy resources. Heath was the longest-serving Member of Parliament and was "Father of the House."
Ted Heath was born the son of a carpenter and a maid from Broadstairs in Kent, England. He was educated at Chatham House Grammar School in Ramsgate, and in 1935 he went on to study at Balliol College, Oxford. A talented musician, he won the college's organ scholarship in his first term. Heath was awarded a second in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics in 1939. While at university he became active in Conservative politics, but unlike some senior politicians such as Neville Chamberlain and George Lansbury, was an active opponent of appeasement. He supported the anti-Munich 'Independent Progressive' candidate Alexander Lindsay against the official Conservative candidate, Quintin Hogg, in the October 1938 Oxford by-election, and was elected as President of the Oxford Union Society in November 1938 as an anti-appeasement candidate, sponsored by Balliol. He was also twice President of the Oxford University Conservative Association.
Heath's opposition to appeasement stemmed from his witnessing first-hand a Nazi Party Nuremberg rally in 1937, where he met top Nazis Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler at an SS cocktail party. He later described Himmler as "the most evil man I have ever met."
Heath served in the Royal Artillery during the World War II, initially serving with heavy anti-aircraft guns around Liverpool, and later providing artillery support in the European campaign of 1944-1945. He later remarked that, although he did not personally kill anybody, as the British forces advanced he saw devastation which must have been caused by his unit's bombardments. At that time he also commanded a firing squad to execute a Polish soldier convicted of rape, a fact which he did not reveal until his memoirs were published in 1998. After demobilization in August 1946, Heath joined the Honourable Artillery Company, in which he remained active throughout the 1950s, rising to Commanding officer; a portrait of him in full dress uniform still hangs in the regimental mess. On at least one occasion as Prime Minister he wore his Lieutenant-Colonel's insignia to inspect troops.
Before the war Heath had prepared for a career in law, but after the war he instead passed into the Civil Service. He then became a civil servant in the Ministry of Civil Aviation, resigning in November 1947 after his adoption as one of the prospective parliamentary candidates for Bexley. He was Editor of the Church Times between 1948 and 49, and later a banker at Brown, Shipley & Co., until his election as Member of Parliament (MP) for Old Bexley and Sidcup in the February 1950 general election. At the "Church Times," he wrote an editorial favoring the Schuman Plan (MacShane: 13). In the election he defeated an old contemporary from the Oxford Union, Ashley Bramall, with a majority of 133 votes. Heath made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on June 26, 1950, in which he appealed to the Labour Government to participate in the Schuman Plan which led to the European Common Market.
In February 1951, Heath was appointed as an Opposition Whip by Winston Churchill. He remained in the Whip's Office after the Conservatives won the 1951 general election, rising rapidly to Joint Deputy Chief Whip, Deputy Chief Whip and, in December 1955, Government Chief Whip under Anthony Eden. Because of the convention that Whips do not speak in Parliament, Heath managed to keep out of the controversy over the Suez Crisis. On the announcement of Anthony Eden's resignation, Heath submitted a report on the opinions of the Conservative MPs regarding Eden's possible successors. This report favored Harold Macmillan and was instrumental in eventually securing Macmillan the premiership. Macmillan soon appointed Heath Minister of Labour after the successful October 1959 election.
Heath was fervently pro-EU and believed in political as well as economic union. He was appointed Lord Privy Seal in 1960 by Macmillan with responsibility for the (ultimately unsuccessful) first round of negotiations to secure the UK's accession to what was then known as the Common Market. Under Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home he was President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development, and oversaw the abolition of retail price controls.
After the Conservative Party lost the general election of 1964, the defeated Douglas-Home changed the party leadership rules to allow for an MP ballot vote, and then resigned. The following year Heath unexpectedly won the party's leadership contest, gaining 150 votes to Reginald Maudling's 133 and Enoch Powell's 15. Heath became the Tories' youngest leader and retained office after the party's defeat in the general election of 1966.
At a time when an important immigration bill was pending, which would open England's doors to citizens from Commonwealth nations, Heath sacked Enoch Powell from the Shadow Cabinet after Powell made his "Rivers of Blood" speech on April 20, 1968. The racist speech warned against allowing blacks to dominate British economy and politics. Heath never spoke to him again. Powell hadn't notified Conservative Central Office of his intentions to deliver the speech, and this was put forward as one reason for his dismissal. Powell would prove a back-bench critic of Heath's policies after his U-turn in 1972. When Powell died on 8 February 1998 and Heath was asked for a statement, Heath told the media: "I won't be making a statement."
With another general election looming in 1970, a Conservative policy document emerged from the Selsdon Park Hotel, which according to some historians embraced fairly radical monetarist and free-market oriented policies as solutions to the country's unemployment and inflation problems. Heath stated that the Selsdon weekend only reaffirmed policies which had actually been evolving since he became leader of the Conservative Party. Labour's Prime Minister Harold Wilson thought the document a vote loser and dubbed it Selsdon Man in the attempt to portray it as "reactionary." But Heath's Conservative Party won the general election of 1970 in a victory seen as a personal triumph that surprised almost all contemporary commentators.
As with all British governments in the 1970s, Heath's time in office was difficult. The government suffered an early blow with the death of Chancellor of the Exchequer Iain Macleod on July 20, 1970. Heath's planned economic policy changes (including a significant shift from direct to indirect taxation) remained largely unimplemented; the Selsdon policy document was more or less abandoned by 1972. Heath's abandonment of the free-trade policies on which his government had been elected resulted in the accusation that he had performed a U-turn. He was charged with pursuing flip-flop policies. Famously, his successor as Conservative leader would say, "U turn is you want to, the Lady's not for turning." He did attempt to reform the increasingly militant trade unions, unions which had managed until then to avoid reforms under preceding Labour and Tory governments. Yet Heath's attempt to confront trade-union power only resulted in an unwinnable pitched political battle, hobbled as the government was by the country's galloping inflation and high unemployment. It was also around this time that energy shortages infamously resulted in much of the country's industry, with many working a three-day week in an attempt to conserve energy. The resulting breakdown of domestic consensus contributed to the eventual downfall of his government.
Heath's government did little to curtail welfare spending, yet at one point the squeeze in the education budget resulted in Margaret Thatcher's office famously phasing out free school milk rather than cutting back spending on the Open University. The contrast with the 1980s Thatcher government resulted in Heath acquiring a strongly humanitarian image.
Northern Ireland Troubles
Heath governed during the bloodiest period in the history of the Northern Ireland Troubles. He was prime minister at the time of Bloody Sunday in 1972 when 14 unarmed men were killed by British soldiers during an illegal march in Londonderry. In 2003, he gave evidence to the Saville Inquiry and stated that he never sanctioned unlawful lethal force in Northern Ireland. In July 1972, he permitted his Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw to hold unofficial talks in London with a Provisional IRA delegation by Seán Mac Stiofáin. In the aftermath of these unsuccessful talks, the Heath government pushed for a peaceful settlement with the democratic political parties.
The 1973 Sunningdale Agreement was strongly repudiated by many Unionists and the Ulster Unionist Party soon ceased to support the Conservative party at Westminster. This breakdown in cooperation largely accounted for Heath's eventual electoral defeat in 1974.
Heath was targeted by the IRA for introducing "internment" in Ulster. In December 1974, terrorists from the Balcombe Street gang threw a bomb on to the first-floor balcony of his home in Wilton Street, Belgravia, where it exploded. Heath had been conducting a Christmas carol concert in his constituency at Broadstairs, Kent, and arrived home 10 minutes after the bomb exploded. No one was injured in the attack, but a landscape portrait painted by Winston Churchill—given to Heath as a present—was damaged.
Edward Heath took the United Kingdom into the European Community in 1973. He also officially recognized the People's Republic of China in 1972, visited Mao Zedong in Beijing in 1974 and 1975 and remained an honoured guest in China on frequent visits thereafter. Heath also maintained a good relationship with U.S. President Richard Nixon.
Heath tried to bolster his government by calling a general election for February 28, 1974. The result was inconclusive: the Conservative Party received a majority of votes cast but the Labour Party gained a majority of seats due to the Ulster Unionist MPs refusing to support the Conservatives. Heath then began coalition negotiations with leaders of the Liberal Party, but, when these failed, on March 4, 1974, he resigned as Prime Minister and was replaced by Harold Wilson and a minority Labour government. Wilson was eventually confirmed with a wafer-thin majority in a second election in October of the same year.
It was around this time that the Centre for Policy Studies, a Conservative discussion group with close spiritual ties to the 1970 Selsdon document, began to formulate a monetarist and free-market diagnosis of the failures of Heath's government. Initially the group was spearheaded by Sir Keith Joseph. Although Margaret Thatcher was associated with the CPS, she was initially seen as a potential moderate go-between by Heath's lieutenant James Prior.
Fall from leadership
With the Conservative Party losing three out of four general elections by 1974 under his leadership, Heath came to be seen as a liability by many Conservative MPs, party activists, and sympathetic newspaper editors. Among the wider electorate he attracted more sympathy, partly because of public statements he had made hinting at his willingness to consider the idea of serving in a government of national unity.
Heath resolved to remain Conservative leader and at first it appeared that by calling on the loyalty of his front bench colleagues he might prevail. At the time the Conservative leadership rules allowed for an election to fill a vacancy but contained no provision for a sitting leader to either seek a fresh mandate or be challenged. In late 1974, Heath came under tremendous pressure to concede a review of the rules.
It was agreed to establish a commission to propose changes in the election rules, and to have Heath put himself up for election under the new guidelines. Initially he expected to be comfortably re-elected, for there was no clear challenger to him after Enoch Powell had left the party and Keith Joseph had ruled himself out following controversial statements on birth control. However, a determined Airey Neave, acting on behalf of back-bench MPs seeking a serious challenger to Heath, and Margaret Thatcher, who believed an adherent to CPS philosophy should run, led to the latter's standing in the leadership challenge.
As the rules of the leadership contest permitted new candidates to enter the fray in a second round of voting should the leader not be confirmed by a large enough majority in the first, Thatcher's challenge was considered by some to be that of a stalking horse. Thatcher's campaign manager, Neave, was later accused of having deliberately understated her support in order to attract wavering votes. In the end, Heath lost on the first ballot, 119 to 130 votes, on February 4, 1975. Heath then withdrew from the contest and his favored candidate William Whitelaw lost to Thatcher in the second vote one week later, 146 to 79.
Heath remained bitter over his defeat and was persistent in his criticisms of the party's new ideological direction for many years. He never forgave Margaret Thatcher for challenging and replacing him as leader of the Conservatives and would refer to her as "that woman." On being asked to comment from time to time on Thatcher's actions or pronouncements he was known to answer, 'I don't know. I'm not a doctor'. The new leader Margaret Thatcher visited him at his flat; accounts differ as to whether she offered him a place in her Shadow Cabinet - by some accounts she was detained for coffee by a colleague so that the waiting press would not realize how terse the meeting had been. Nonetheless, after the 1979 general election, he nursed hopes of being appointed Foreign Secretary, and 19 years later still felt the need to publish in his memoirs a photograph of Thatcher's letter informing him that she would instead be appointing Lord Carrington to the post. Instead he was offered, and declined, the post of British Ambassador to the United States.
At the time of his defeat he was still popular with rank and file Conservative members, and was warmly applauded at the 1975 Party Conference, facts which were used after 1997 as an argument against giving Party members too large a say in the election of the Party Leader (usually as a retort to the argument that ordinary members supported Mrs. Thatcher when she was in turn ousted in 1990). He continued to be seen as a figurehead by some on the left of the party up to the time of the 1981 Conservative Party conference, at which he openly criticized the government's economic policies; a subsequent speaker claimed, to wide applause, that whereas Thatcher foresaw a great future for Britain, Heath still foresaw "a great future for himself." As the 1980s wore on, Heath became an isolated figure in the Conservative Party.
He remained active on the international stage, serving on the Brandt Commission investigation into developmental issues, particularly on North-South projects. In 1990 he flew to Baghdad to attempt to negotiate the release of British aircraft passengers taken hostage when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. After Black Wednesday in 1992 he called for governments to build up a fund of reserves to defeat what he called currency "speculators."
In the second 1974 general election, Heath had called for an all-party "National Government." Some commentators believe that after losing the leadership in 1975 Heath aimed to await a major crisis in British politics and to become available as a potential "elder statesman" who could head such a government. However, the opportunity and the call never came.
In the 1960s Heath had lived at a flat in the Albany, off Piccadilly; at the unexpected end of his premiership he was left homeless and had to take over the flat of a Conservative MP Tim Kitson for some months. In February 1985, Heath moved to Salisbury, where he resided until his death.
Heath continued to serve as a backbench MP for the London constituency of Old Bexley and Sidcup until retiring from Parliament at the 2001 general election, by which time he had been created a Knight of the Garter and was, from 1992, the longest-serving MP and "Father of the House," as well as the oldest sitting British MP. As Father of the House, he oversaw the election of two Speakers of the Commons, Betty Boothroyd, the first female to hold this office and Michael Martin.
In addition to his knighthood and the MBE which he was awarded in 1946 for his military service, Heath received several honorary doctorates.
Parliament broke with precedent by commissioning a bust of Heath while he was still alive. The 1993 bronze work, by Martin Jennings, was moved to the Members' Lobby in 2002.
In old age Heath became very overweight. He suffered a pulmonary embolism in August 2003 while on holiday in Salzburg, Austria. He never fully recovered, and due to his declining health and mobility made very few public appearances in the final two years of his life. Sir Edward died from pneumonia on 17 July 2005, at the age of 89. As a tribute, the day after his death the BBC Parliament channel showed the BBC coverage of the 1970 election. A memorial service was held for Heath in Westminster Abbey on 8 November 2005 which was attended by two thousand people. Three days later his ashes were interred in Salisbury Cathedral.
In January 2006, it was announced that Heath had left £5 million in his will, most of it to a charitable foundation to conserve his eighteenth-century house, Arundells, next to Salisbury Cathedral. As he had no descendants, he left only two legacies: to his brother's widow (£20,000); and to his housekeeper (£2500).
Personal life and interests
Heath was a keen yachtsman. He bought his first yacht Morning Cloud in 1969 and won the Sydney to Hobart race that year. He captained Britain's winning team for the Admiral's Cup in 1971—while Prime Minister—and also captained the team in 1979.
He wrote three non-political books, Sailing, Music, and Travels, and an autobiography, The Course of My Life (1998). The latter took 14 years to write; Heath's obituary in the Daily Telegraph alleged that he never paid many of the ghost-writers.
Heath was a lifelong bachelor, although he always had the company of women when social (and particularly musical) circumstances required. John Campbell, who published a biography of Heath in 1993, devoted four pages to a discussion of Heath's sexuality. He commented that there was "no evidence whatsoever" that Heath was gay "except for the faintest unsubstantiated rumour" (the footnote refers to a mention of a "disturbing incident" at the beginning of the war in a 1972 biography by Andrew Roth). Campbell also points out that Heath was at least as likely to be a repressed heterosexual (given his awkwardness with women) or "simply asexual."
Heath had been expected to marry childhood friend Kay Raven, who reportedly tired of waiting and married an RAF officer whom she met on holiday in 1950. In a terse four-sentence paragraph in his memoirs, Heath claimed that he had been too busy establishing a career after the war and had "perhaps … taken too much for granted." In a TV interview with Michael Cockerell, Heath admitted that he had kept her photograph in his flat for many years afterwards.
After Heath's death, gay rights campaigner and Conservative London Assembly member Brian Coleman suggested in 2007 that the former Prime Minister was a homosexual. Coleman, writing on the website of the New Statesman on the issue of "outing," said: "The late Ted Heath managed to obtain the highest office of state after he was supposedly advised to cease his cottaging activities in the 1950s when he became a privy councillor." The claim was dismissed by MP Sir Peter Tapsell, and Heath's friend and MP Derek Conway stated that "if there was some secret I’m sure it would be out by now.". It is easy to malign someone who is dead. The alleged activities would seem inconsistence with Heath's religious convictions.
Heath was persistently referred to as "The Grocer," or "Grocer Heath" by magazine Private Eye after he negotiated for Britain at a Common Market food prices conference in November 1962. The nickname was used periodically, but became a permanent fixture in the magazine after he fought the 1970 General Election on a promise to reduce the price of groceries.
Heath's disgruntlement at being overthrown by Margaret Thatcher endured throughout her leadership of the party, and led him to being nicknamed "The Incredible Sulk." At the publication party for his memoirs Heath joked: "The sulk is over."
For British opponents of the European Union he remains "Traitor Heath," because in their view he betrayed the United Kingdom by giving away a measure of sovereignty while negotiating Britain's entry into the European Economic Community in 1972.
A Man of Faith
Heath's service at the Church Times was no accident. He was actually less outspoken about his Christian faith than his rival, Enoch Powell, with whose racist opinions he strongly disagreed. However, he co-authored the book, Christian Values (1996) as well as authoring a book on carols. Biographer MacShane suggests that Heath drew on Christian social thought that was inclined to favor power-sharing and class cooperation. In addition, Heath wrote a foreword to the 1976 edition of William Temple's Christianity and the Social Order which called for a just society. In the 1990s, Heath often took part in conferences of the Summit Council for World Peace and Federation for World Peace, organizations begun by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification movement on family values and society.
Pro-Europeans in Britain will continue to value Heath's legacy in leading the United Kingdom into the European Union. Those who advocate withdrawal will continue to vilify his legacy. On his death, however, Margaret Thatcher paid him tribute as the first modern and democratically elected leader of the Conservative Party. Prime Minister Tony Blair described him as "a man of great integrity and beliefs [who] held firmly from which he never wavered." He would "be remembered," said Blair, "by all who knew him as a political leader of great stature and significance."
- "1965: Heath is New Tory Leader," BBC 22 July 1965 . Retrieved 14 June 2007
- "The year London Blew Up," History, August to December 1974. The Year London Blew Up Retrieved 14 June 2007
- "Unveiling of a Statue of Baroness Thatcher in Members Lobby, House of Commons," "UK Parliament: Unveiling of a Statue of Baroness Thatcher in Members Lobby, House of Commons.www.parliament.uk. Commentators have noted how the statue of Margaret Thatcher appears to overshadow Heath's bust.
- "Former PM Heath left £5m in will," BBC News. 20th January 2006 . Retrieved 14 June 2007
- Andrew Grice, "Heath was told to stop gay sexual activity: Tory claims," The Independent, 25 April 2007 Heath was told to stop gay sex activity, Tory claims. Retrieved 14 June 2007
- Coleman, Brian, "The closet is a lonely place," New Statesmen, 23 April 2007 The closet is a lonely place Retrieved 14 June 2007
- Bob Roberts, "Hamps-ted Heath," The Mirror', 25 April 2007 Hamps-ted Heath Retrieved 14 June 2007
- "PM Ted 'cruised for gay sex",The Sun, April 25, 2007, PM Ted 'cruised for gar sex'
- "Former PM Sir Edward Heath dies," BBC News 18 July 2005 Former PM Sir Edward Heath dies. retrieved 12 June 2007
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Heath, Edward, Helena Kennedy, John Taverner, et al. Christian Values. Hodder & Stoughton Religious, 1996. ISBN 0340642726
- Heath, Edward. Music: A Joy for Life. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1976. ISBN 978-0283983498
- Heath, Edward. Sailing: A Course of My Life. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1975. ISBN 978-0283982255
- Heath, Edward. The Course of My Life. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1998. ISBN 978-0340708521
- Heath, Edward. Travels: People and Places in My Life. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1977. ISBN 978-0283984143
- Ball, Stuart & Anthony Seldon, eds. The Heath Government: 1970-1974: A Reappraisal. London: Longman, 1996 ISBN 978-0582259911
- Campbell, John. Edward Heath: A Biography. London: Jonathan Cape, 1993. ISBN 978-0224024822
- Holmes, Martin. The Failure of the Heath Government. Basingstoke: Longman, 1997. ISBN 978-0333716069
All links retrieved February 12, 2024.
- The Guardian Obituary
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