Sir Edward Richard George Heath, KG, MBE (9 July 1916 – 17 July 2005), often known as Ted Heath, 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 aristocratic figures such as Harold Macmillan and Lord Home to the self-consciously meritocratic Heath, and later, Margaret Thatcher.
He is most remembered as being the Prime Minister who took Britain into the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973. His premiership was also marked by an escalation of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and industrial disputes, which led to the "three-day week" in 1974.
While at university Heath became active in Conservative politics. However, on the key political issue of the day, foreign policy, he opposed the Conservative-dominated government of the day ever more openly. His first Paper Speech (i.e. a major speech listed on the order paper along with the visiting guest speakers) at the Oxford Union, in Michaelmas 1936, was in opposition to the appeasement of Germany by returning her colonies, confiscated after the First World War. In June 1937 he was elected President of the Oxford University Conservative Association as a pro-Spanish Republic candidate, in opposition to the pro-Franco John Stokes (later a Conservative MP). In 1937-8 he was also chairman of the national Federation of University Conservative Associations, and in the same year (his third at University) he was Secretary then Librarian of the Oxford Union. At the end of the year, however, he was defeated for the Presidency of the Oxford Union by another Balliol candidate, Alan Wood, on the issue of whether the Chamberlain government should give way to a left-wing Popular Front. On this occasion Heath supported the government.
In his final year Heath was President of Balliol College Junior Common Room, an office held in subsequent years by his near-contemporaries Denis Healey and Roy Jenkins, and as such was invited to support the Master of Balliol Alexander Lindsay, who stood as an anti-appeasement 'Independent Progressive' candidate against the official Conservative candidate, Quintin Hogg, in the October 1938 Oxford by-election. Heath, who had himself applied to be the Conservative candidate for the by-election , accused the government in an October Union Debate of "turning all four cheeks" to Hitler, and was elected as President of the Oxford Union in November 1938, sponsored by Balliol, after winning the Presidential Debate that "This House has No Confidence in the National Government as presently constituted". He was thus President in Hilary Term 1939; the visiting Leo Amery described him in his diaries as "a pleasant youth".
As an undergraduate, Heath travelled widely in Europe. His opposition to appeasement was nourished by 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". In 1938 he visited Barcelona, then under attack from Spanish Nationalist forces. In the summer of 1939 he again travelled across Germany, returning to England just in time before the declaration of war.
Before the war Heath had won a scholarship to Gray's Inn and had begun making preparations for a career at the Bar, but after the war he instead passed top into the Civil Service. He then became a civil servant in the Ministry of Civil Aviation (he was disappointed not to be posted to the Treasury, but declined an offer to join the Foreign Office, fearing that foreign postings might prevent him from entering politics ). He resigned in November 1947 after his adoption as the prospective parliamentary candidate for Bexley.
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 favoured Harold Macmillan and was instrumental in eventually securing Macmillan the premiership in January 1957. Macmillan later appointed Heath Minister of Labour after the successful October 1959 election.
Heath was appointed Lord Privy Seal in 1960 by Harold Macmillan with responsibility for the negotiations to secure the UK's first attempt to join the Common Market (as the European Community was then called). After extensive negotiations, involving detailed agreements about the UK's agricultural trade with Commonwealth countries such as New Zealand; British entry was vetoed by the French President, General de Gaulle, at a press conference in January 1963. After this setback, a major humiliation for Macmillan's foreign policy, Heath was not a contender for the party leadership on Macmillan's retirement in October 1963. 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.
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.
When Powell died on 8 February 1998, Heath was asked for his reaction, but he simply told the media: "I won't be making a statement."
The new Cabinet contained some important future figures, including Margaret Thatcher (Education & Science), William Whitelaw (Leader of the House of Commons), and also an ex-Prime minister, Alec Douglas-Home, who filled the important brief of Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs.
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 20 July 1970; his replacement Anthony Barber was a much less strong political personality. 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 as unemployment climbed by 1972 (the so-called "U-Turn"). From this point on, the economy was inflated in an attempt to bring unemployment down, resulting in the so-called "Barber Boom".
Heath did attempt to rein in an increasingly militant trade union movement, which had so far managed to stop legal attempts to curb their power under preceding Labour and Tory governments. Heath's Industrial Relations Act set up a special court under the judge Lord Donaldson, whose imprisonment of striking dockworkers was a public relations disaster which the Thatcher Government of the 1980s was to take pains to avoid, relying instead on confiscating the assets of unions found to have broken the law. 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 rate. Especially damaging to the government's credibility was a confrontation with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), from which the union emerged victorious. Energy shortages infamously resulted in much of the country's industry 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, then Secretary of State for Education and Science, acting on the late Iain Macleod's wishes, further extending the restrictions (begun by the preceding Labour Government), upon free school milk removing it from 8 to 11 year olds. For this the tabloid press christened her "Thatcher the Milk Snatcher". She did however succeed in blocking Macleod's other posthumous Education policy of abolishing the Open University recently founded by the preceding Labour Government.
Heath's Government passed the 1972 Local Government Act, which changed the boundaries of England's counties and created "Metropolitan Counties" around the major cities (e.g. Merseyside around Liverpool); this caused a significant amount of anger from sections of the public and is still not fully embraced to this day. In some cases local pressure has since caused the boundary changes to be reversed, e.g. Weston-Super-Mare has ceased to be part of the newly-formed Avon (i.e. Greater Bristol) and is now once again part of Somerset. However, Heath did not divide England into regions, choosing instead to await the report of the Crowther Commission on the constitution; the ten Government Office Regions were eventually set up by the Major government in 1994.
Along with the changing of the "historic" (in fact they had been revised as recently as 1889) county boundaries, another reform implemented by the Heath Government added to an uneasy feeling of change: the decimalisation of British coinage, begun under the previous Labour Government, was completed eight months after he came to power. Old pence (known as "d" for denarii) were abolished, with one "silver" shilling being equal to five "New Pence" (Shilling and Two Shilling coins would remain in circulation as 5p and 10p until the early 1990s). A special edition of the relatively new 50p coin (introduced in 1969) showed a circle of linked hands to commemorate British entry into the Common Market. The acceleration of inflation made this change seem even more unsettling.
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 co-operation largely accounted for Heath's eventual electoral defeat in 1974.
Heath was targeted by the IRA for introducing 'Internment' in Northern Ireland. In December 1974 the Balcombe Street ASU 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.
A seven-week miners' strike in 1974 helped bring down the Conservative Government and cost Edward Heath the party leadership.
Heath tried to bolster his government by calling a general election for 28 February 1974. The result was inconclusive: the Conservative Party won a plurality in terms of votes cast but the Labour Party won a plurality in terms of seats, with Ulster Unionist MPs refusing to support the Conservatives. Heath then began coalition negotiations with leaders of the Liberal Party, but, when these failed, on 4 March 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. In the second 1974 general election, Heath called for an all party "National Government".
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.
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 implying that the working classes should be encouraged to use more birth control. However Joseph's close friend and ally Margaret Thatcher, who believed an adherent to CPS philosophy should run, joined the leadership contest in his place, alongside the outsider Hugh Fraser. Aided in this by the determined campaigning amongst back-bench MPs of Airey Neave - whose earlier approach to William Whitelaw had been rebuffed out of loyalty to Heath - she emerged as the only serious challenger.
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. Heath himself blamed his defeat on the "cunning" of Neave in deliberately understating her support in order to attract wavering votes . In the end, Heath lost on the first ballot, 119 to 130 votes, (Fraser 16) on 4 February 1975. Heath then withdrew from the contest and his favoured candidate William Whitelaw lost to Thatcher in the second vote one week later, 146 to 79. (Howe 19, Prior 19, Peyton 11)
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 realise how brief the meeting had been. Heath himself claimed that he had already informed her that he did not want a Shadow Cabinet place, and the purpose of her visit was simply to seek his advice as to how to handle the press. Nonetheless, after the 1979 general election, he nursed hopes of being appointed Foreign Secretary. Instead he was offered, and declined, the post of British Ambassador to the United States.
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'. 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 criticised the government's economic policies.
Heath played a leading role in the 1975 referendum campaign, in which Britain voted to remain part of the EEC. He also remained active on the international stage, serving on the Brandt Commission investigation into developmental issues, particularly on the 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 in the House of Commons for governments to build up a fund of reserves to defeat what he called currency "speculators".
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.
In 1987 Heath was nominated in the election for the Chancellorship of the University of Oxford but came third, behind Roy Jenkins and Lord Blake.
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 and Michael Martin.
In August 2003, at the age of 87, Heath suffered a pulmonary embolism 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. His final ever public appearance was at the unveiling of a set of gates to Winston Churchill at St Paul's Cathedral on 30 November 2004. Sir Edward Heath died from pneumonia on the evening of 17 July 2005, at the age of 89. He was cremated on 25 July 2005 at a funeral service with fifteen hundred people present. 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).
Heath conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, notably at a gala concert at the Festival Hall in November 1971, at which he conducted Elgar's Cockaigne (In London Town), as pictured at right. He also conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the English Chamber Orchestra, as well as orchestras in Germany and the U.S. Heath received honorary degrees from the Royal College of Music and Royal College of Organists. During his premiership, Heath invited musician friends, such as Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin, Clifford Curzon and the Amadeus Quartet, to perform either at Chequers or Downing Street.
John Campbell, who published a biography of Heath in 1993, devoted four pages to a discussion of the evidence concerning Heath's sexuality. Whilst acknowledging that Heath was often assumed by the public to be gay, not least because it is "nowadays... whispered of any bachelor" he found "no positive evidence" that this was actually so "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 pointed out that Heath was at least as likely to be a repressed heterosexual (given his awkwardness with women), although he thought it unlikely that he was "asexual" given how "unrelaxed" he was about sexual matters, and concluded that the fact of Heath's sublimation of his sexuality was more important than what his original inclinations had been.
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 of 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 1998 TV interview with Michael Cockerell, Heath admitted that he had kept her photograph in his flat for many years afterwards.
After Heath's death, Conservative London Assembly member Brian Coleman suggested in 2007 that the former Prime Minister was 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 denied 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".
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