Edward Heath, the son of a builder, was born in Broadstairs on 9th July, 1916. He studied at Balliol College, Oxford where he was influenced by the political and religious ideas of A. D. Lindsay and William Temple. In 1937 Heath became president of the Oxford Conservative Association.
In 1938 he went with three other undergraduates to observe the Spanish Civil War. He met leaders of the Popular Front government and on his return he campaigned against General Francisco Franco and the Nationalist Army.
As well as being in favour of intervention in Spain Heath was a strong opponent of the appeasement policy of Neville Chamberlain. Although a member of the Conservative Party, Heath supported his university tutor, A. D. Lindsay, the anti-appeasement candidate in the Oxford by-election in October, 1938. The following year he was elected as president of the Oxford Union.
Heath was called up to the British Army in August, 1940. After receiving training at Storrington in Sussex, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in March 1941 and was posted to the 107 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment based in Chester.
Following the D-Day landings, Heath's regiment arrived in France on 6th July, 1944. Over the next few months he was involved in heavy fighting in Belgium, Netherlands and Germany. He also took part in Operation Veritable, the action to capture the land between the rivers of the Rhine and the Maas. As a result of this action he was awarded the military MBE and was mentioned in dispatches. Heath remained in Germany after the war and attended the Nuremberg Trials in 1946.
A member of the Conservative Party, Heath worked as news editor of the Church Times. In 1948 he went to work for the finance house of Brown, Shipley and Company. In the 1950 General Election Heath won Bexley with a majority of 133. A committed European, Heath made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 26th June in favour of the Schuman Plan. He ended his speech with the words: "It was said long ago in the House that magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom. I appeal tonight to the government to follow that dictum, and to go into the Schuman Plan to develop Europe and to coordinate it in the way suggested.
Heath showed that he was on the left of the party with an article in the seminal Conservative pamphlet, One Nation (1950). However, after being appointed as deputy chief whip in 1953 he had to remain silent in the House of Commons.
In 1955 Anthony Eden appointed Heath as his Chief Whip and had the task of persuading Conservative MPs to support the government during the Suez Crisis. Later he served as Minister of Labour (1959-60) under Harold Macmillan.
As Lord Privy Seal he led the British team negotiating entry into the Common Market. A passionate European he was devastated when Charles De Gaulle vetoed Britain's entry in 1963. In the Alec Douglas-Home administration Heath was President of the Board of Trade.
The Labour Party won the 1964 General Election and the following year Heath defeated Enoch Powell and Reginald Maudling to become leader of the Conservative Party. In 1965 Heath supported attempts by Harold Wilson to bring down the white minority regime in in Rhodesia. This upset Conservatives on the right and Heath had to deal with a rebellion led by Lord Salisbury.
Heath lost the 1966 General Election to Harold Wilson. In 1968 Wilson's popularity slumped after Enoch Powell made his "rivers of blood" speech on immigration. Instead of supporting the use of the race issue to gain favour with the British electorate, Heath sacked Powell as a member of the shadow cabinet.
The Conservative Party won the 1970 General Election with a majority of 30 seats. Heath now became prime minister and immediately made the third British application to join the European Economic Community (ECC). On 28th October, 1971, the House of Commons voted with a 112 majority to go into Europe. However, many in his party was unhappy with this policy and it created deep divisions that lasted for over thirty years.
Heath also followed a policy of supporting British industry. In 1971 Rolls-Royce faced bankruptcy and received considerable funds from the government. The Upper Clyde Shipbuilders was also bailed out when it got into economic difficulties.
Heath came into conflict with the trade unions over his attempts to impose a prices and incomes policy. His attempts to legislate against unofficial strikes led to industrial disputes. In 1973 a miners' work-to-rule led to regular power cuts and the imposition of a three day week. Heath called a general election in 1974 on the issue of "who rules". He failed to get a majority and Harold Wilson and the Labour Party were returned to power.
In January 1975 Margaret Thatcher challenged Heath for the leadership of the Conservative Party. On 4th February Thatcher defeated Heath by 130 votes to 119 and became the first woman leader of a major political party. Heath took the defeat badly and refused to serve in Thatcher's shadow cabinet. He considered Thatcher to be a right-wing authoritarian and like another former Conservative prime minister, Harold Macmillan, Heath constantly criticized her policies.
Heath remained in the House of Commons as a backbencher. However, during this period he became an important international statesman and was one of the key members of the Brandt Commission into North/South problems (1977-80), and for several years thereafter was one of the Third World’s most moving advocates. Heath joined the House of Lords in 2001.
Sir Edward Heath died of pneumonia on 17th July, 2005.
At the time I went up, Balliol's already formidable reputation was being further enhanced by the then Master, A. D. Lindsay. 'Sandy' Lindsay had previously been Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University, a chair once held by Adam Smith. There the comparison ended, for Lindsay was a socialist whose Christian faith was an integral part of his political philosophy. In 1926, two years after he became Master, he had caused an uproar, both among the College parents and more widely in the University, by supporting the General Strike; and, in 1931, he had entertained Mahatma Gandhi for a fortnight in the Master's Lodge during the Indian leader's visit to Britain.
Although Lindsay's own principles were strongly social democratic, he was completely non-dogmatic and non-doctrinaire both in argument and in deed. He believed that democracy alone, and the freedom of expression it underpinned, could give each individual the chance to live his or her own full life. Lindsay had more influence on me at Oxford than anyone else. Ironically, by hastening my intellectual development, this great socialist probably strengthened my innate Conservatism: and the more I exposed my instinctive political views to intellectual questioning, the more solid and rigorous their foundations became.
My Christian faith also provided foundations for my political beliefs. In this, I was influenced by the teaching of William Temple. Temple's impact on my generation was immense. He believed that a fairer society could be built only on moral foundations, with all individuals recognising their duty to help others. Like Lindsay, he was a socialist and, in his wish to redress the balance of power between those who own and those who produce, he sometimes failed to see that some would seek through socialist measures not justice, but power for its own sake. He was, however, the first Anglican leader for decades to set out the Church's teachings in modern terms. He propounded a view of morality which was not preoccupied with sexuality, but which was relevant to the myriad problems besetting the individual in the personal, professional and social spheres. On mainland Europe, the related but more conservative doctrines of Christian Democracy had, regrettably, been submerged by fascism and nationalism. But many of us were already intrigued and rather attracted by the apparent kinship of Christian Democratic thinking with our own moderate Conservatism, which we similarly predicated upon the view that the individual can be truly fulfilled only as part of a social unit.
In the summer of 1938, together with three other Oxford undergraduates, I received an invitation from the Republican government of Spain, which had then been involved for nearly two years in its civil war, to spend two or three weeks in Catalonia, the last great province remaining under its control. I was invited in my capacity as chairman of the Federation of University Conservative Associations. My colleagues were Richard Symonds, a socialist from Corpus Christi who joined the United Nations secretariat after the Second World War; Derek Tasker, a Liberal from Exeter College who was later ordained and became the Canon Treasurer of Southwark Cathedral; and George Stent, a South African from Magdalen, who was probably the furthest to the left of us all in his political views. For all of us, it was to be our first taste of war.
We were to witness a conflict which aroused, in our generation, passions every bit as fierce as those stirred up by the war in Vietnam thirty years later. The struggle between the Republicans and General Franco's fascists had gained particular international significance because of the intervention of Germany and Italy on Franco's side, and the refusal of the Chamberlain government to do more than isolate Spain. Moreover, many of our contemporaries had gone off to Spain to fight, the majority on the Republican side, and many had lost their lives. My sympathies were firmly with the elected government of the Spanish Republic simply because it was not a dictatorship, although it was somewhat to the left and was supported by the Soviet Union.
The base for our visit was Barcelona, and we travelled there via Calais, Paris and Perpignan. At one point, our night train came to a juddering halt. Opening the window, we discovered that a wheel had come off, but not from our carriage. We arrived late at Perpignan, our destination in France. After a superb lunch in a restaurant overlooking the main square of the town, we were then driven at breakneck speed along the coast, a lot of it at quite a height, on the winding mountain roads down to Barcelona. We found the capital city of Catalonia in darkness - it was never lit up for fear of air-raids - and settled in to a comfortable hotel. Instructions in our rooms told us to go down to the basement in the event of an air-raid alarm. It was just as well that we did not heed those instructions, opting instead for the excitement of watching the bombers flying past. During one raid, a bomb went straight down the hotel lift shaft, skittling to the bottom and killing all those who had rushed down to the basement shelter.
I did not quite know what I was going to find, as this was our first experience of actual warfare. I imagined we might come to a wrecked city and find a terror-stricken people, haggard and worn... with rioting and looting and feelings running high... What we did find surprised us all... Everything is perfectly normal, life is going on almost as usual... people thronging the streets, sitting in cafes, laughing and talking with far from long faces... the liberty of the individual has impressed me greatly... There are no secret courts here. During the raids the same calmness and normal behaviour continues . . . people go quietly to a shelter, there is no sign of panic. But they realise what it all means, as people who have never seen them never can realise the destruction of defenceless men, women, and children, bombed in unprotected villages, is most ghastly. I have seen the planes 200 feet above my head, heard the bombs, and the village I had passed through five minutes before was in ruins. Yet still the morale of the people is untouched.
I found that their attitude was governed entirely by political considerations. I believe there is a genuine desire on their part to reach agreement with France and with the other countries of Western Europe. I believe that in that desire the German government are genuine and I believe, too, that the German government would be prepared to make economic sacrifices in order to achieve those political results which they desire. I am convinced that, when the negotiations take place between the countries about the economic details, the German government will be prepared to make sacrifices ... I believe that these discussions would give us a chance of leading Germany into the way we want her to go. It was said long ago in the House that magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom. I appeal tonight to the government to follow that dictum, and to go into the Schuman Plan to develop Europe and to coordinate it in the way suggested.
Throughout these weeks I was able to observe Eden closely. In particular, I watched the animated way in which he worked on his papers. As he went over telegram after telegram from our ambassadors at the United Nations and in the major capitals of the world, one could only admire the skill and the speed with which he worked. Like all the best leaders in peace and war, he seemed able to visualise the situation many moves ahead.
He was also able to make realistic assessments and imaginative proposals for dealing with them. The only exception I noticed was his readiness to accept the information coming in from the intelligence services in the Middle East. All too many of them were misleading enough taken at face value, but at times he seemed to read into them what he wanted. This was especially the case with regard to Nasser's personal position in Egypt and his relationship with other Middle Eastern countries. Eden was determined that Nasser and his regime should be brought down. The intelligence services often provided gossip and items of tittle-tattle which seemed to show that this was about to happen. But it never did and Nasser emerged more or less intact from the whole episode.
Secret discussions on the possibility of an invasion between the British, French and Israelis were carried out in Paris in the latter part of October. I was first told of these discussions after a meeting of the inner circle of Ministers and officials held at Chequers on 21 October. I was alarmed, but far from surprised, that a plan was being hatched to circumvent the negotiations in New York. Four days later, I went into the Cabinet Room as usual shortly before Cabinet was due to start, and I found the Prime Minister standing by his chair holding a piece of paper. He was bright-eyed and full of life. The tiredness seemed suddenly to have disappeared. 'We've got an agreement!' he exclaimed. 'Israel has agreed to invade Egypt. We shall then send in our own forces, backed up by the French, to separate the contestants and regain the Canal.' The Americans would not be told about the plan. He concluded, somewhat unnervingly, that 'this is the highest form of statesmanship'. The Sevres Protocol, as it became known, had been signed the day before, in a suburb of Paris. Sir Patrick Dean had signed on behalf of the Foreign Secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, and Christian Pineau and David Ben-Guiron had signed, respectively, on behalf of France and Israel. Only Lloyd, Macmillan, Butler and myself were to know about it. I did my utmost to change Eden's mind, warning him that it was unlikely that people would believe him - and that, even if the Protocol remained a secret and people accepted the official reason for going in, the very act of doing so was likely to split the country. Eden did not dispute any of this advice, but simply reiterated that he could not let Nasser get away with it.
Before we could have a proper discussion, the door opened and the Cabinet began to file in. At the meeting which followed, Eden repeated what he had said to our conference about the need to use force only if necessary. Although several Ministers had doubts about military action, the only one who actually resigned was Walter Monckton, the Minister of Defence. He was replaced by Antony Head on 18 October and took a non-departmental post. On 30 October, the Prime Minister interrupted business in the House at 4.30 p.m. to make a statement announcing that Israel had attacked Egyptian territory and was moving towards the Canal. At the same time it had given an undertaking that it would not attack Jordan or other neighbouring countries whose independence we were concerned to maintain.
As these debates proceeded, more and more questions were being asked and were remaining unanswered by an increasingly exposed, embarrassed and truculent government. In between the two front-bench wind-up speeches on Thursday 1st November, the drama moved on to another plane when the Conservative Member for the Wrekin, William Yates, interrupted on a point of order and said, "I have come to the conclusion that Her Majesty's Government has been involved in an international conspiracy," and the House had to be suspended amid considerable uproar.
I only trust that nothing I have done at Rambouillet or Nassau has increased your difficulties. My impression of de Gaulle is that he is friendly to me personally, not unfriendly to Britain (always remembering the insults he conceives were put upon him by Churchill during the War), wants friendly relations with Britain, but does not want us now in the Community because he is in a mood of sulks about the future of Europe politically and would prefer to stay where he is with France dominating the Five. At the same time I am not sure that he wants this to be too public. The only thing that seemed to worry his advisers were the moments in the discussion where he gave away his hand too obviously and I pounced upon this.
You know how great a confidence and faith my colleagues and I have had in you throughout, and the wonderful -work that you have done is fully recognised throughout the country. Come what may, your position will stand very high.
At the beginning of February 1970, however, it was back to serious politics. The Shadow Cabinet met at Selsdon Park Hotel, near Croydon, to co-ordinate the results of our policy reviews and discuss an early draft of our manifesto. There had been a regrettable departure from our team in the autumn. Sir Edward Boyle, who had done so much to ensure the success of the policy groups, had agreed to take up the post of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds, and announced his decision to leave politics at the coming election. I had always regarded Boyle as a candidate for one of the first offices of state, and during the 1960s I offered him a variety of senior posts, but his interest in education, which had given him Cabinet rank under Macmillan, only deepened. He held liberal views on virtually every subject, but he was especially committed to equality of opportunity. Unfortunately, this made him unpopular with vocal members of our right wing and, unlike those who are wholly addicted to politics, Boyle would not compromise an inch to buy a respite from criticism. I understood when he told me about the Leeds appointment, and reluctantly accepted that he should leave. He helped out during the election campaign, however, and I recommended him for a life peerage in 1970 when I became Prime Minister. We stayed in touch until his early death in 1981. After some reflection I decided to offer the Shadow Education post to Margaret Thatcher, who had dealt effectively with Fuel and Power and Transport since joining the Shadow Cabinet in 1967.
Inflation is not only damaging to the economy ... it is a major cause of social injustice, always hitting hardest at the weakest and poorest members of the community . . . the main causes of rising prices are Labour's damaging policies of high taxation and devaluation ... the Labour government's own figures show that, last year, taxation and price increases more than cancelled any increase in incomes ... so wages started chasing prices up in a desperate and understandable attempt to improve living standards.
According to Douglas Hurd, who, after working for Heath in Opposition, succeeded Marcia Falkender as the Political Secretary at No. 10, Heath saw himself as a latter-day Robert Peel, creating a new Conservative Party to fit the new social realities of which he was himself the product. It was a good analogy. Heath was the first Conservative leader from the lower middle class, as Peel was the first leader to represent the new rich who had made their money out of manufacturing industry. They had similar personalities too. Peel was described by contemporaries as "an iceberg with a slight thaw on the surface", his smile "like the gleam of the silver plate on a coffin lid". Both men had to make up in vigour and industry what they lacked in more human and exciting qualities.
It could be said of Heath, as it was of Peel, that he ended up like "the Turkish Admiral, who steered his fleet into the enemy's port". He finally came under heavy attack from inside his own Party for lack of Conservative principle. In taking Britain into the Common Market, like Peel in repealing the Corn Laws, he never won the general consent of his Party. Heath was also a confirmed pragmatist, though he has always been reluctant to admit that he ever changes his mind.
In fact no Prime Minister has ever reversed the whole thrust of his policies as fast and completely as Heath. He abandoned his Thatcherism lock, stock, and barrel when he discovered it was causing mass unemployment. Contrary to his declared intentions, he baled out Rolls-Royce and Upper Clyde Shipyards, abandoned the market economy in favour of industrial interventionism, embraced the control of prices and incomes, and condemned the Lonrho affair as "the unacceptable face of capitalism".
I have always had in my mind's eye a vision about the people of this country . . . We are a great people and a great nation. We are one nation. One nation in which men and women of all creeds and all races can live together not in conflict but as neighbours. One nation in which the young know they will have their fair share of the opportunities and the elderly know they will have their fair share of the rewards. One nation in which all those who work in industry share the same aim, of creating new prosperity for themselves and for the community. One nation which is ready to make a major contribution in Europe on terms that are fair and just. One nation the world will choose to listen to once more because it hears us speak with one voice. Because it sees us ordering our affairs with fairness and good sense. A nation worth listening to. A nation worth living in. That is what this government - your government - will achieve.
Inflation is not only damaging to the economy ... it is a major cause of social injustice, always hitting hardest at the weakest and poorest members of the community . . . the main causes of rising prices are Labour's damaging policies of high taxation and devaluation ... the Labour government's own figures show that, last year, taxation and price increases more than cancelled any increase in income.
Membership of the EEC brings us great economic advantages, but the European Community is not a matter of accountancy. There are two basic ideas behind the formation of the Common Market; first, that having nearly destroyed themselves by two great European civil wars, the European nations should make a similar war impossible in future; and, secondly, that only through unity could the western European nations recover control over their destiny - a control which they had lost after two wars, the division of Europe and the rise of the United States and the Soviet Union.
We must . . . work out with the trade unions and the employers a fair and effective policy for prices and incomes ... if after all our efforts we fail to get a comprehensive voluntary policy we shall need to support the voluntary restraint that 15 achieved with the back-up of the law. It would be irresponsible and dishonest totally to rule this out ... In the absence of an effective prices and incomes policy and Government would have to take harsher financial and economic measures than would otherwise be necessary.
My mood as the counting began was hopeful, but not confident. The campaign had been short, and the electorate had had no time to put the bad news of the last few days into its proper context. We were particularly worried about the Liberal vote. The party had been as high as 30 per cent in the opinion polls of September 1973 and, of course, we could not count on help from the Ulster Unionists in a close election because we had established power-sharing in Northern Ireland. When the early results came in, we knew straight away that the support of minor parties could be needed. In my own seat I now had a majority close to 10,000, but that was little reason for cheer. As I was driven back to Downing Street after the announcement of my result, I still could not be sure whether I would be Prime Minister the next day. I was certain, however, that we could no longer hope to be returned with the sort of lead we had enjoyed in 1970.
The last results were not in until the Saturday. We had won more votes than Labour, but had fallen short of their tally of seats, mainly because the Liberals' 19 per cent of the vote had taken support from us. The final score was Labour 301, Conservatives 297 and Liberals 14. In addition, there were nine Nationalist MPs from the mainland, twelve Ulster MPs and two Independents who were formerly Labour. Oddly for an indecisive election, the turnout was high. Although the result was a bitter disappointment, the government of the country had to be carried on regardless of what I felt and, on the basis of the results, I had a clear constitutional duty to see if I was best placed to carry on that responsibility. Labour had fought the election on the most extreme platform of any party since the war, which had been more or less ignored thanks to the inevitable media focus on the miners' strike. I could not leave office without trying everything within my power to form a moderate alternative government.
I felt sorry for Ted Heath personally. He had his music and a small circle of friends, but politics was his life. That year, moreover, he had suffered a series of personal blows. His yacht, Morning Cloud, had sunk and his godson had been among those lost. The election defeat was a further blow.
Nonetheless, I had no doubt that Ted now ought to go. He had lost three elections out of four. He himself could not change and he was too defensive of his own past record to see that a fundamental change of policies was needed.
I arranged to see Ted on Monday 25 November. He was at his desk in his room at the House. I need not have worried about hurting his feelings. I went in and said: 'I must tell you that I have decided to stand for the leadership.' He looked at me coldly, turned his back, shrugged his shoulders and said: "If you must." I slipped out of the room.
Ted Heath never liked to leave things to chance. Even as he lay dying at his home in Salisbury on Sunday, his office was ringing the media to tip them off that the end was very near. When his death was announced at 9pm, television and the newspapers had their prepared obituaries and tributes ready to go straight to press and on air.
Of the many leading politicians I have made films about over the years, the former Conservative prime minister was the trickiest to deal with. He was a man of many moods. Sometimes when you made the pilgrimage to film him at his breathtakingly beautiful house in the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral, he would be jovial and ebullient - at other times he would be in a total grump and monosyllabic in his answers.
His customary way of greeting you was to make you feel not at home, to try to destabilise you before you had even started. As we sat down for one interview, he said: "Have you got your usual list of boring questions?" Yes exactly the same, I replied.
"Oh well, we'd better get it over with." I thought the interview went reasonably well and when it was over I asked if he thought the questions had been as boring as usual. "Oh yes," he replied, "but infinitely more irrelevant." I told his private secretary about this. "That's good, if he's rude to you it means he likes you."
The complexities of Heath's character provide rich material for political psychoanalysts. When I was making a film about his life, he told me that he decided that he was going to be prime minister when he was at the local grammar school in the Kent seaside town of Broadstairs, where he grew up. "But I didn't tell the other boys as they might have been jealous," he said.
Taking Heath back to Oxford to film him in Balliol - he had won an organ scholarship to the college - put him into one of his jovial moods. In the grand dining hall we talked as we inspected the imposing portraits of old Balliol men who'd became prime ministers - Asquith, Macmillan and Heath himself. Did he think Balliol gave some quality that helped in becoming prime minister? "Oh yes, complete mental control - intellectual control." What they called tranquil consciousness of effortless superiority, I said. "Yes, absolutely it's the first thing, they teach that from the moment you get here." And he felt that for the rest of his life? "Yes, that's what caused so much trouble." And he laughed.
We took Heath back to Nuremberg, where he had gone as an undergraduate in 1937 to assess for himself the menace of Nazism. He told me that what he saw at the Nuremberg rally and later as an artillery officer during the second world war inspired in him the idea that would dominate his whole political life. "I saw in German cities, practically everything was destroyed. And I was convinced then that what my generation had to do was to create a unity in Europe which would mean that that this would never happen again."
While Heath would talk fluently about the political influences on him, he was notoriously guarded about his private life. The one exception came when we arranged to film him in Broadstairs. I met him when he stepped out of his car and instead of his usual insult for a greeting, he beamed at me and said: "Smell that air - wonderful isn't it - the best in the world." He was relaxed and jovial over our lunch in the best hotel: he ate smoked salmon and fresh asparagus with hollandaise sauce. But he refused a drink: "Never before a big interview," he said. When we began recording for the first time he opened by a fraction the doors on to his feelings. He had never before talked publicly about his girlfriend from Broadstairs. She was Kay Raven the daughter of the local doctor who had waited patiently for him throughout the war. Heath had taken up with her again after the war and his friends had expected them to marry. But he never got round to proposing. "She decided she would marry someone else, but I don't discuss these things," said Heath. "Did you get over it?" "Yes." "It was said you kept her photograph by your bed." "Yes." "Did you?" "Yes."- and he looked away, as if close to tears. He talked so movingly about the death of his mother that I felt we had crossed a barrier and when we next time we met he would be more relaxed and prepared to give more of himself. The opposite happened. It was as if he had decided to give me just one glimpse - but never again.
I later asked him if he felt he had missed out by never having married. "A lot of people say I have gained, because instead of having to spend time with one's family or not spending time and being divorced, I've just been free to use my time in the world of politics." Throughout his life it was music that absorbed his feelings
A carpenter's son who broke the tradition of blue bloods leading the Conservative Party, his major achievement was to negotiate Britain's 1973 entry into the European Community. The entry overturned years of resistance both domestically and by France, which had vetoed Britain's entry in 1967.
In 1992, he became Sir Edward, a member of the country's most prestigious order of chivalry, the knights of the Garter. "He was a man of great integrity and beliefs he held firmly from which he never wavered, and he will be remembered by all who knew him as a political leader of great stature and importance," Prime Minister Tony Blair said Sunday. Heath came to power in 1970, pledging to end Britain's long cycle of post-World War II decline, but he was thwarted and, in the end, brought down by militant unions. In 1974, with Britain reduced to a three-day week by striking coal miners, Heath called an election demanding "Who governs?" in a challenge to the unions. He lost to Harold Wilson's Labour Party and lost again when an election was called in October that year. In all, Heath had taken the Conservatives to defeat by Labour three times since becoming leader of the party in 1965. The Tories rebelled, and in February 1975 another outsider, the grocer's daughter Thatcher, successfully challenged him for the party leadership. On Sunday, Thatcher called him a "political giant" and "the first modern Conservative leader."
He took office on June 19, 1970, and declared from the pavement outside 10 Downing Street that “to govern is to serve”. Partly by ill-chance it was not a government of strong ministers. Iain Macleod died after a month, and left a gap which not only muted the administration’s persuasiveness but also deprived it of effective macro-economic control. Macleod’s successor as Chancellor, Anthony Barber, always seemed more interested in the details of taxation reform than in the direction of the economy. Maudling as Home Secretary had personal troubles, which prevented his authority being as great as his political sagacity, and had eventually to resign from office in July 1972. Douglas-Home as Foreign Secretary was widely liked and respected, but was perhaps a little representative of the past.
The great harbinger of the future within the Government was kept very much in her place as a junior member of the Cabinet, and was nearly dismissed as Education Secretary at the end of 1972. Heath rather contemptuously spared the axe at the last moment. It was perhaps not the best basis for their future relationship.
The Government, therefore, depended very heavily upon the Prime Minister. Heath was eager to supply both the energy and the authority, and he achieved at last one triumph which, at least to some, makes him rank with Pitt, Peel, Asquith and Attlee as prime ministers who have set the nation’s course for a generation and more. He succeeded where Macmillan and Wilson had failed and got Britain into Europe. Partly by establishing an effective relationship with Pompidou (the only one between a British prime minister and a French president since the Fifth Republic began), Heath brought the negotiations to a successful conclusion and then won the crucial House of Commons vote by a majority of 112 in October 1971.
This victory was aided by the votes of 69 Labour MPs, who defied a three-line whip, the Labour Party having shown more regard for factious opposition than for consistency.
On January 22, 1972, Heath signed the treaty of accession in Brussels. It must have been one of the most satisfactory days of his life, even though he was doused in ink.
Domestically there was less satisfaction. The Heath Government began in what now appears as a surprisingly Thatcherite direction. A necessary Industrial Relations Bill (which indeed owed a good deal to Barbara Castle’s abortive foray in 1969) was quickly introduced but produced some nonsenses in implementation. The Commonwealth was thrown into uproar by a decision to sell arms to South Africa, and a policy of letting “lame duck” companies collapse was proclaimed. Some of the interventionist institutions created by the Wilson Government, such as the Prices and Incomes Board and the Consumer Council, were ritually slaughtered.
The contrast with the 1979 Government was that, whether through weakness or through wisdom, these policies were mostly not persisted with when unfortunate consequences began to show. Public money was pumped into Rolls-Royce as well as into Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, the Prices and Incomes Board resurfaced at the beginning of 1973 in the form of the Pay Board and the Prices Commission, the Consumer Council had a still more glorious resurrection in the shape of a full-scale Ministry of Consumer Affairs, and when unemployment went above a million in 1972 a policy of almost headlong reflation was launched.
Northern Ireland affairs occupied a good deal of the Prime Minister’s time. Terrorism escalated and devolved government was in near-collapse. In March 1972, Heath suspended Stormont and appointed William Whitelaw as the first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a viceroy with full powers. This led to a sustained effort to bring Protestants and Catholics together in a power-sharing arrangement for the province. This was finally achieved in the Sunningdale agreement of December 1973, which was brave but short-lived.
The month of March 1972 was only the beginning of Whitelaw’s role as the firefighter of the Government. When agreement was achieved in Northern Ireland he was brought back as Secretary of State for Employment to endeavour to deal with the miners in what proved to be the last drama of that administration.
It was prefaced and made immensely more difficult by the shock of the first oil price increase. Against this unfavourable background he and Heath failed, and they and the nation were plunged into the gloom of the three-day week.
The challenge of the miners was regarded as sufficiently serious to provoke an early general election on the question of “who governs Britain”. But Heath did not make up his mind to have it early enough, wavered through January, eventually called it for February 28, and failed to keep the mind of the electorate on the single issue for this length of time.
The result was not exactly a defeat — the Conservatives polled 1 per cent more votes than Labour — but a signal failure to secure a victory. Heath, with four seats fewer than Wilson, hung on over the weekend that followed polling day. He tried to make a coalition with the Liberals, who were not easily patronisable partners — they had done exceptionally well for votes (19 per cent) and been rewarded with only 2 per cent of the seats.
It was a reasonable but slightly inept attempt, for it ended both in putting Wilson back into office and giving him a complete command over the date of the second 1974 election, which almost inevitably followed from the hung Parliament. This second election in October was the last which Heath was allowed to fight as leader, an outcome which followed to some extent from its course and result.
Heath fought highly respectably on a platform of national unity in the face of national danger, and did quite well to limit Wilson to a barely working majority, but it meant that he had lost three out of four general elections and many Conservative candidates (by no means all of the Right) claimed to find him unpopular on the doorsteps.
A contest for the leadership became inevitable. First it was Keith Joseph who looked the most likely challenger. Then Margaret Thatcher emerged with stronger nerves. The ballot took place on February 4, 1975, and was a devastating blow to Heath. She had 130 votes. He had 119. Hugh Fraser had 16. Heath immediately withdrew and left her to win an overall majority on a second ballot over Whitelaw, Howe, Prior and Peyton.
Heath never fully got over this defeat. As a result there was a strong element of sadness in his last three decades, but such were his innate qualities that there were elements of splendour too.
He remained an MP until 2001, but he never held office again. The only one he was offered was the embassy in Washington, which he declined with disdain in 1979. He remained very bitter towards Thatcher, and alienated many half-friends with the frankness with which he expressed this — his appointment in 1992 by the Queen as a Knight of the Garter came safely after her fall from power. Heath’s tactless curmudgeonliness probably cost him the chancellorship of Oxford University, a post by which he set much store, vacated in 1987 when Macmillan died.