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Heath

The Rt Hon. Edward Heath MP

The Rt Hon. Edward Heath MBE MP (born 9th July 1916) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1974. He was Leader of the Conservative Party from 1965 – 1975. He is currently Member of Parliament for Sidcup.


Early Life Edit

Ted (or "Teddy" as he was known as a young man) Heath was born the son of a carpenter and a maid from Broadstairs in Kent, England. His father was later a successful small businessman. He was educated at Chatham House Grammar School in Ramsgate, and also at The King's School, Canterbury for the Sixth form, where he was head boy, 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 in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics in 1939. 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.

Political Career Edit

He was Editor of the Church Times and later a banker at 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. 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. 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.

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 - 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 after Powell made his Rivers of Blood speech on 20 April 1968. 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.

As Prime Minister Edit

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 reform the increasingly militant trade unions, unions which had managed until then to avoid reforms under preceding Labour and Tory governments. His 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".

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. Edward Heath took the United Kingdom into the European Community in 1973. In October 1973 he placed a British arms embargo on all combatants in the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur war; that mainly affected the Israelis in obtaining spares for the Centurion tank. 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 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 July 1972, he 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 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.

Fall from Power Edit

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 received a majority in terms of votes cast but the Labour Party gained a majority in terms 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 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.

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. 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).

Today, he sits as a Member of Parliament for Sidcup.

Political Offices Edit

Preceded by:
Harold Wilson
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
1970 - 1974
Succeeded by:
Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by:
Alec Douglas-Home
Leader of the Conservative Party
1965 – 1975
Succeeded by:
Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by:
Alec Douglas-Home
Leader of HM Opposition
1965 – 1970 and 1974 – 1975
Succeeded by:
Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by:
New Constituency
Member of Parliament for Sidcup
1974 - Present
Succeeded by:
Incumbent