- Category : Political
- Type : PSP
- Profile : 3/5 - Martyr / Heretic
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Penetration 2
Sir Edward Richard George Heath, KG MBE (9 July 1916 – 17 July 2005) was a British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1970 to February 1974 and as Leader of the Conservative Party from 1965 to 1975.
Born in Kent, Heath studied at Oxford University and served in the Second World War. He was first elected to Parliament in 1950 for Bexley, and was the Chief Whip from 1955 to 1959. Entering the Cabinet as Minister of Labour in 1959, he was later promoted to Lord Privy Seal and later became President of the Board of Trade. In 1965, Heath won the leadership of the Conservative Party against Reginald Maudling and Enoch Powell. The 1966 election months later saw the Labour Government of Harold Wilson win a large victory, although Heath remained leader.
Heath became Prime Minister after winning the 1970 election. In 1971, Heath oversaw the decimalisation of British coinage and in 1972, he implemented major reform to the UK's system of local government. Possibly most significantly, Heath took the UK into the European Economic Community in 1973. Heath's Premiership also oversaw the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, with the suspension of the Stormont Parliament and the imposition of direct British rule. Unofficial talks with IRA delegates were unsuccessful, as was the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973, which caused the Ulster Unionist Party to withdraw from the Conservative whip.
Heath also attempted to curb the power of trade unions with the Industrial Relations Act 1971, and had hoped to deregulate the economy and make a transfer from direct to indirect taxation. However, rising unemployment in 1972 caused Heath to reflate the economy at the cost of high inflation, which he attempted to control by prices and incomes policy. Two miners' strikes, in 1972 and 1974, proved incredibly damaging to the government, with the latter causing the implementation of the Three-Day Week to conserve energy. Heath eventually called an election for February 1974 in an attempt to win a public mandate to face down the miners' wage demands, but this instead resulted in a hung parliament. Following a failed attempt to establish a coalition government with the Liberal Party, Heath was forced to resign as Prime Minister in favour of Harold Wilson, whose minority government won a small majority in a second election in October that year.
Despite losing two general elections in quick succession, Heath vowed to continue as leader of his party. In 1975 however, his former Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher challenged and defeated Heath to win the leadership. Returning to the backbenches, Heath became an active critic of Thatcher's policies as leader and later Prime Minister. He remained a backbench MP until retiring in 2001, serving as the Father of the House for his last nine years in Parliament. Outside of politics, Heath was a world-class yachtsman and a musician of near-professional standard. He was also one of only four British Prime Ministers never to have married.
Edward Heath (known as "Teddy" as a young man) was born at 54 Albion Road, Broadstairs, Kent, the son of William George Heath, a carpenter and builder, and Edith Anne Heath (née Pantony), a maid. His father was later a successful small businessman. He was educated at Chatham House Grammar School in Ramsgate and in 1935 with the aid of a county scholarship he went up to study at Balliol College, Oxford. A talented musician, he won the college's organ scholarship in his first term (he had previously tried for the organ scholarships at St Catharine's College, Cambridge and Keble College, Oxford) which enabled him to stay at the university for a fourth year; he eventually graduated with a Second Class Honours BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics in 1939.
In later years, Heath's peculiar accent – with its "strangulated" vowel sounds, combined with his non-Standard pronunciation of "l" as "w" and "out" as "eout" – was satirised by the Monty Python's Flying Circus in the audio sketch "Teach Yourself Heath" (originally recorded for their 1972 LP Monty Python's Previous Record but not released at the time). Heath's biographer John Campbell speculates that his speech, unlike that of his father and younger brother, who both spoke with Kent accents, must have undergone "drastic alteration on encountering Oxford", although retaining elements of Kent speech.
While at university Heath became active in Conservative politics. 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-Republican candidate, in opposition to the pro-Franco John Stokes (later a Conservative MP). In 1937–38 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 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 Oxford by-election, 1938. 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 Adolf 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 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 during the Spanish Civil War. In the summer of 1939 he again travelled across Germany, returning to England just before the declaration of war.
Second World War
Heath spent the winter of 1939–40 on a debating tour of the United States before being called up, and early in 1941 was commissioned into the Royal Artillery. During the war he initially served with heavy anti-aircraft guns around Liverpool (which suffered heavy German bombing in May 1941) and by early 1942 was regimental adjutant, with the rank of Captain. Later, by then a Major commanding a battery of his own, he provided artillery support in the North-West Europe Campaign of 1944-1945.
According to his autobiography Heath participated as an Adjutant in the Normandy Landings, where he met Maurice Schumann, French Foreign Minister under Pompidou.
Heath later remarked that, although he did not personally kill anybody, as the British forces advanced he saw the devastation caused by his unit's artillery bombardments. In September 1945 he commanded a firing squad that executed a Polish soldier convicted of rape and murder. After demobilisation as a Lieutenant-colonel in August 1946, Heath joined the Honourable Artillery Company, in which he remained active throughout the 1950s, rising to Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion; a portrait of him in full dress uniform still hangs in the HAC's Long Room. In April 1971, as Prime Minister, he wore his lieutenant-colonel's insignia to inspect troops.
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.
After working as News Editor of the Church Times from February 1948 to September 1949, Heath worked as a management trainee at the merchant bankers Brown, Shipley & Co. until his election as Member of Parliament (MP) for Bexley in the February 1950 general election. In the election he defeated an old contemporary from the Oxford Union, Ashley Bramall, with a majority of 133 votes.
Member of Parliament
Heath made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 26 June 1950, in which he appealed to the Labour Government to participate in the Schuman Plan. As MP for Bexley, he gave enthusiastic speeches in support of the young, unknown candidate for neighbouring Dartford, Margaret Roberts, soon to become Margaret Thatcher.
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 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, a Cabinet Minister – as Chief Whip Heath had attended Cabinet but had not been formally a member – after winning the October 1959 election.
In 1960 Macmillan appointed Heath Lord Privy Seal 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, Charles de Gaulle, at a press conference in January 1963 – much to the disappointment of Heath, who was a firm supporter of European common market membership for the United Kingdom. However, he would oversee a successful application when serving in a higher position a decade later.
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 maintenance.
Leader of the Opposition
After the Conservative Party lost the general election of 1964, the defeated Home changed the party leadership rules to allow for a MP ballot vote, and then resigned. The following year, Heath – who was Shadow Chancellor at the time, and had recently won favourable publicity for leading the fight against Labour's Finance Bill – 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.
Heath sacked Enoch Powell from the Shadow Cabinet in April 1968, shortly after Powell made his controversial "Rivers of Blood" speech which criticised Commonwealth immigration to the United Kingdom. Heath never spoke to Powell again.
With another general election approaching in 1970 a Conservative policy document emerged from the Selsdon Park Hotel that, according to some historians, offered 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 that had actually been evolving since he became leader of the Conservative Party. The prime minister, Harold Wilson, thought the document a vote-loser and dubbed it the product of Selsdon Man – after the supposedly prehistoric Piltdown Man – in order to portray it as reactionary. But Heath's Conservative Party won the general election of 1970 – 330 seats to Labour's 288. It was the only occasion since 1945 in which one party with a working majority had been replaced in a single election by another party with a working majority.
The new cabinet included Margaret Thatcher (Education and Science), William Whitelaw (Leader of the House of Commons) and the former prime minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs).
During Heath's first year in office, higher charges were introduced for school meals, spectacles, dentistry, and prescriptions. Entitlement to state sickness benefit was also changed so that it would only be paid after the first three days of sickness. As a result of the squeeze in the education budget, Margaret Thatcher acted on the late Iain Macleod's wishes by ending the provision of free school milk for 8- to 11-year-olds (the preceding Labour Government having removed it from secondary schools three years before), for which the tabloid press christened her "Thatcher the Milk Snatcher". Despite these measures, however, the Heath Government encouraged a significant increase in welfare spending, and Thatcher blocked Macleod's other posthumous Education policy: the abolition of the Open University, which had recently been founded by the preceding Labour Government.
Provision was made under the National Insurance (Old Persons’ and Widows’ Pensions and Attendances Allowances) Act of 1970 for pensions to be paid to old people who had been excluded from the pre-1948 pension schemes and were accordingly excluded from the comprehensive scheme that was introduced in 1948. About 100,000 people were affected by this change, half of whom were receiving Supplementary Benefit under the social security scheme. The Act also made improvements to the widows’ pension scheme by introducing a scale that started at 30 shillings a week for women widowed at the age of 40 and rose to the full rate of £5 at the age of 50.
Considerable support was provided for nursery school building, and a long-term capital investment programme in school building was launched. A Family Fund was set up to provide assistance to families with children who had congenital conditions, while new benefits were introduced benefiting hundreds of thousands of disabled persons whose disabilities had been caused neither by war nor by industrial injury. An attendance allowance was introduced for those needing care at home, together with an invalidity benefit for the long-term sick, while a higher child allowance was made available where invalidity allowance was paid. Widow's benefits were introduced for those aged between forty and fifty years of age, improved subsidies for slum clearance were made available, while rent allowances were introduced for private tenants.
The school leaving age raised to 16, while a family income supplement was introduced to boost the incomes of low-income earners. Families who received this benefit were exempted from health service charges while the children in such families were eligible for free school meals. Noncontributory pensions were also introduced for all persons aged eighty and above, while in 1973, a new Social Security Act was passed which introduced benefit indexation in the United Kingdom for the first time by index-linking benefits to prices to maintain their real value.
In Great Britain, Scottish and Welsh nationalism also grew as political forces, while the decimalisation of British coinage, begun under the previous Labour Government, was completed eight months after Heath came to power. The Central Policy Review Staff was established by Heath in February 1971, while the 1972 Local Government Act changed the boundaries of Britain's counties and created "Metropolitan Counties" around the major cities (e.g. Merseyside around Liverpool): this caused significant public anger. 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.
Heath's time in office was as difficult as that of all British prime ministers in the 1970s. The government suffered an early blow with the death of Chancellor of the Exchequer Iain Macleod on 20 July 1970; his replacement was Anthony Barber. 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 increased considerably by 1972. By January that year, the unemployment rate reached a million, the highest level for more than two decades. Opposed to unemployment on moral grounds, Heath encouraged a famous "U-Turn" in economic policy that precipitated what became known as the "Barber boom." This was a two-range process involving the budgets of 1972 and 1973, the former of which pumped £2.5 billion into the economy in increased pensions and benefits and tax reductions. By early 1974, as a result of this Keynesian economic strategy, unemployment had fallen to under 550,000. The economic boom did not last, however, and the Heath Government implemented various cuts that led to the abandonment of policy goals such as a planned expansion of nursery education.
Heath attempted to rein in the increasingly militant trade union movement, which had so far managed to stop attempts to curb their power by legal means. His Industrial Relations Act set up a special court under the judge Lord Donaldson, whose imprisonment of striking dockworkers was a public relations disaster that the Thatcher Government of the 1980s would take pains to avoid repeating (relying instead on confiscating the assets of unions found to have broken new anti-strike laws). Heath's attempt to confront trade union power resulted in a political battle, hobbled as the government was by inflation and high unemployment. Especially damaging to the government's credibility were the two miners' strikes of 1972 and 1974, the latter of which resulted in much of the country's industry working a Three-Day Week in an attempt to conserve energy. The National Union of Mineworkers won its case but the energy shortages and the resulting breakdown of domestic consensus contributed to the eventual downfall of his government.
As mentioned above, Heath's government oversaw two years of a steep rise in unemployment, which they later successfully reversed. His Labour predecessor as prime minister, Harold Wilson, had inherited an unemployment count of around 400,000 at the time of his general election win of October 1964 but seen unemployment peak at 631,000 during the spring of 1967, though it had fallen to 582,000 by the time Heath seized power in June 1970. Like Wilson and Labour, Heath and the Tories were pledged to "full employment" but within a year it became clear that they were losing that battle, as the official unemployment count crept towards 1,000,000 and some newspapers suggested that it was even higher. In January 1972, it was officially confirmed that unemployment had risen above 1,000,000 – a level not seen for more than 30 years. Various other reports around this time suggested that unemployment was higher still, with The Times newspaper claiming that "nearly 3,000,000" people were jobless by March of that year.
See also: Enlargement of the European Union#First enlargement
Upon entering office in June 1970, Heath immediately set about trying to reverse Wilson's policy of ending Britain's military presence East of Suez. Heath took the United Kingdom into the European Community in 1973. He publicly supported the massive US bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong in April 1972.
In October 1973, he placed a British arms embargo on all combatants in the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur war, which mostly affected the Israelis by preventing them obtaining spares for their Centurion tanks. Heath refused to allow US intelligence gathering from British bases in Cyprus, resulting in a temporary halt in the US signals intelligence tap. He also refused permission for the US to use any British bases for resupply.
He favoured links with the China, visiting Mao Zedong in Beijing in 1974 and 1975 and remaining an honoured guest in China on frequent visits thereafter and forming a close relationship with Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping. Heath also maintained a good relationship with US President Richard Nixon and figures in the Iraqi Ba'ath Party.
Heath governed during a bloody period in the history of the Northern Ireland Troubles. On Bloody Sunday in 1972, 14 men were killed by British soldiers during a civil rights march in Derry. (In 2003, he gave evidence to the Saville Inquiry and stated that he had never sanctioned unlawful lethal force in Northern Ireland). In early 1971 Heath sent in a Secret Intelligence Service officer, Frank Steele, to talk to the Provisional Irish Republican Army and find out what common ground there was for negotiations. Steele had carried out secret talks with Jomo Kenyatta ahead of the British withdrawal from Kenya. In July 1972, Heath permitted his Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, to hold unofficial talks in London with a Provisional Irish Republican Army (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, which proposed a power-sharing deal, was strongly repudiated by many Unionists and the Ulster Unionist Party who withdrew its MPs at Westminster from the Conservative whip. The proposal was finally brought down by the Loyalist Ulster Workers' Council strike in 1974 (although by then Heath was no longer in office). Much of what was contained in the Sunningdale Agreement found its way into the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which was once described by the then deputy leader of the SDLP, Seamus Mallon, as "Sunningdale for slow learners", a reference to the failed power-sharing deal of 1973.
Heath was targeted by the IRA for introducing internment in Northern Ireland. In December 1974, the Balcombe Street ASU threw a bomb onto 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 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.
Fall from power
1974 general election
Heath tried to bolster his government by calling a general election for 28 February 1974, using the election slogan "Who governs Britain?". The result of the election was inconclusive with no party gaining an overall majority in the House of Commons; the Tories had the most votes but Labour had slightly more seats. Heath began negotiations with Jeremy Thorpe, leader of the Liberal Party but, when these failed, he resigned as Prime Minister on 4 March 1974, and was replaced by Wilson's minority Labour government, eventually confirmed, though with a tiny majority, in a second election in October of the same year.
The Centre for Policy Studies, a Conservative group closely involved with the 1970 Selsdon document, began to formulate a new monetarist and free-market policy, initially led 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.
Rise of Thatcher
Heath came to be seen as a liability by many Conservative MPs, party activists and newspaper editors. His personality was cold and aloof, annoying even to his friends. He resolved to remain Conservative leader, even after two general election defeats in one year, and at first it appeared that by calling on the loyalty of his front bench colleagues he might prevail. In the weeks following the second election defeat, Heath came under tremendous pressure to concede a review of the rules and agreed to establish a commission to propose changes and to seek re-election. There was no clear challenger after Enoch Powell had left the party and Keith Joseph had ruled himself out after controversial statements implying that the working classes should be encouraged to use more birth control. Joseph's close friend and ally Margaret Thatcher, who believed an adherent to CPS philosophy should stand, joined the leadership contest in his place alongside the outsider Hugh Fraser. Aided by Airey Neave's campaigning amongst back-bench MPs – whose earlier approach to William Whitelaw had been rebuffed out of loyalty to Heath – she emerged as the only serious challenger.
The new rules permitted new candidates to enter the ballot in a second round of voting should the first be inconclusive, so Thatcher's challenge was considered by some to be that of a stalking horse. Neave deliberately understated Thatcher's support in order to attract wavering votes from MPs who were keen to see Heath replaced even though they did not necessarily want Thatcher to replace him.