BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Friday, 11 May, 2001, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Sir Edward Heath: An isolated Tory
Sir Edward Heath
Former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, has made his farewell speech to the Commons at the age of 85, after more than half a century as an MP. His personal statement, as Bob Chaundy of the BBC's News Profiles Unit explains, contained that same bitter-sweet mixture that has marked his career.

Edward Heath's big break as an MP, he explained to an attentive House, came in 1951 when a Tory whip called Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport kicked a troublesome MP to the ground "in the usual places".

Delivering his final statement to the House
A bitter-sweet final statement to the House
He was asked to resign, as the Times put it, "to give greater consideration to his constituents". Mr Heath was invited to take his place.

The laughter his tale engendered was tempered on his own party's benches by his bitter attack on his leadership's hostility to Europe. "It is only right we should share our sovereignty with our European neighbours", he implored, "for the greater benefit of all."

That he should end his parliamentary career speaking on the subject most dear to his heart, completes the circle. For Edward Heath's decision to enter politics was influenced, decisively, by his wartime experience in Europe.

As a gunner in France, where he once had the unenviable task of ordering the execution by firing squad of a soldier convicted of rape, he witnessed the ravages of war.

They instilled in him a political mission; to create a unity in Europe that would prevent such a conflict ever happening again.

Heath signs Britain's entry into the Common Market
Signing Britain's entry into the Common Market
Heath saw Britain's membership of the Common Market as the first step in this process, and in the early 1960s, a decade after first entering the Commons as Tory MP for Bexley, he became Britain's principal negotiator with the "Six".

Even though General de Gaulle gave a firm "non" to Britain's first application, Heath had made his name. By 1964, this son of a carpenter and parlour maid, had become the first Tory leader to be chosen by ballot and, at 49, the youngest leader of the party since Disraeli.

His classless, grammar-school background was seen as a vital attribute in countering the appeal of the charismatic Labour leader, Harold Wilson.

Yet, Heath, a bachelor, lacked the common touch, and if he strikes loathing in the hearts of so many anti-Europeans today, unpopularity was a commodity he got very used to during his time as Conservative party leader.

Heath broadcasting to the nation in 1974
Asking the nation "Who governs Britain?"
"He wouldn't feel he was doing his job properly unless he was booed a bit", remarked his former Cabinet Minister, Jim Pryor.

Heath lost three of the four elections he fought, and his four years as Prime Minister from 1970 -74, though they included his proudest achievement of securing Britain's entry into the Common Market, were marked by social rancour.

Millions of workers resented his confrontational approach towards pay and the unions, and, against a background of a quadrupling of Arab oil prices, strikes broke out everywhere.

With the country on a three-day week, and with rubbish piling up in the streets, the miners flexed their muscles and threatened to bring the Heath government down.

In 1974, the Prime Minister called an election asking "Who governs Britain?" They answered "Not you, Ted", albeit narrowly. The Conservatives polled more votes than Labour but held fewer seats.

Edward Heath with Margaret Thatcher
Heath and Thatcher: no love lost
But the Tory knives were out, and a junior colleague, Margaret Thatcher, surprised everyone by trouncing Heath in the first round of the ensuing leadership contest. Sir Edward Heath felt utterly betrayed.

What followed was dubbed "the longest sulk in modern politics", as the increasingly corpulent Heath sat sour-faced on Churchill's old front-bench seat, scowling at Mrs Thatcher's government's abandonment of his "one-nation Tory" ideals.

When Mrs Thatcher finally was ousted herself, his reported comment "Rejoice, Rejoice" was, it turned out, a mis-quote. He had said the word three times.

Yet, as his biographer John Campbell told the BBC, "not once has he ever admitted the smallest criticism of his own premiership".

His inexorable stubbornness was exemplified most recently by his determination not to adopt the popular and commonsense procedure to the election of the Speaker of the House.

Heath in his garden in Salisbury
More time to enjoy his Salisbury home
Sir Edward Heath's refusal to move to the "outdated" Lords, will mean more time to enjoy his music, his art collection and his beautiful Georgian House in Salisbury where, away from the "increasingly impotent Parliament", he will be, perhaps, more inclined to exercise the wit and charm which lurks beneath his gruff exterior.

Once, on a visit to his home, his old friend and rival Roy Jenkins looked at the Cathedral through the living room window and remarked "that must be among the top ten most beautiful views in the country". Heath's reply? "Why, what are the other nine?"


Most recent
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes