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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 July, 2005, 20:48 GMT 21:48 UK
From PM to Commons institution

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Sir Edward Heath will forever be remembered for his two great political passions - Europe and Margaret Thatcher.

He loved the vision of a united Europe and did everything in his power to take, and then keep, Britain in the EEC, as it then was.

Sir Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher
He was not a Thatcher fan
It was a cause he championed to the very last.

But he hated Lady Thatcher. Partly for her anti-Europeanism which intensified over her years in power.

But also for what he saw as her destruction of his One Nation Tory party.

The fact that she proved a far more successful prime minister than him - most notably when it came to taking on the unions - only intensified the vitriol he would regularly pour over "that woman."

Barely spoke

And, as long as she was in front line politics there was no way he was about to stand down and remove his brooding presence from her sight.

In 1989 he once declared: "Whatever the lady does is wrong."

The two barely spoke to each other for years and throughout the entire period of the Thatcher reign he could often be seen sitting behind her in the Commons like a malignant panda waiting for his chance to slap her down.

In recent years the two were said to have patched things up. Many doubted that.

By the time he did eventually give up the Commons in 2001, he had become an institution.

As Father of the House - the honour which falls to the longest serving MP - he was regularly on hand to deliver withering, always unscripted, assaults on his leader.

Or to throw his considerable weight behind the Euro-enthusiasts' cause.

Oil crisis

He remained an important and influential figure in politics - if less so in his own party - right up until his death.

His premiership, between 1970 and 1974, however, was marked by strife and, ultimately, failure.

Ted Heath in 1970
He became prime minister in 1970

During his rule he faced widespread industrial unrest and, combined with the oil crisis, saw the country reduced to the three-day week.

He then made the fatal mistake of taking on the unions with the declaration: "Who governs Britain - the unions or the government?"

It was a question that should never have been asked by a Tory prime minister in the 1970s, and he did not like the answer he got.

Guaranteed entertainment

But despite his subsequent demotion to the backbenches he carved out a role as one of the most distinctive operators in the Commons.

Witty and grumpy by turn, he was always guaranteed entertainment.

By the time he stood down in 2001 his shoulders might no longer have bobbed up and down when he laughed like they used to, but the mischievousness was still there.

Sir Edward Heath
Sir Edward was a Commons star
A good example was how he spent months tantalising and taunting friend and foe alike over whether he would stand down in 2001.

Shortly before he announced his decision to step down he was challenged over his plans during a lunch with political journalists, and appeared to confess that even he might soon have to call it a day.

After a polite pause to allow their food to settle, the assembled journalists ran off to file their stories. But once the fresh air hit them and they started deconstructing what had actually been said, few had the confidence to predict his imminent resignation.

Europe and Thatcher

But that was all part of the fun for Ted. He loved nothing more than to confound all about him and watch as they ran around trying to decode his messages, particularly when he was subtly destroying a colleague.

When he chose to, of course, he could be ruthlessly clear in his meaning.

And that was never more apparent than when he was talking about his two great passions.

Sir Edward's lasting legacy - and it is one he was proud of - was his decisive role in taking Britain into what is now the European Union in 1972, and his passion for the project remained undimmed.

Needless to say he became increasingly saddened by what he saw as the Eurosceptic drift within the Tory Party under William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, and always found it hard to heap praise on his party's leader.

Much of what he did after he was ousted from the Tory leadership in 1975 - after losing two elections in the space of 10 months - was about promoting the pro-European cause.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
A look back at the life of Sir Edward Heath



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