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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 18:46 GMT 19:46 UK
Sir Edward Heath to stand down
Sir Edward Heath
Sir Edward Heath is to retire from parliament
The former prime minister Sir Edward Heath has announced he is to retire from parliament at the next general election after over 50 years as an MP.

Sir Edward - who as the longest serving MP bears the title the father of the house - was prime minister from 1970 until 1974.

Prime Minster Tony Blair was among the first to pay tribute saying: "Sir Edward has made an outstanding contribution to British political life, both through his service as an MP and as Prime Minister."

Conservative leader William Hague said: "Ted Heath's retirement from the House of Commons at the next election will leave a gap that no-one can fill."

The 84-year-old Tory veteran announced his decision in a letter to his Old Bexley and Sidcup constituency association.

In the letter he said: "I am immensely proud of having been returned by the electorate of Bexley at every General Election since February 23, 1950, a period of more than 50 years."

On Monday, Sir Edward took centre stage during the election of the new Commons Speaker in his capacity as father of the house.

Commons man

In spite of his age, he has been a regular feature in the Commons' chamber - although in recent years he has been increasingly at odds with his party.

As an ardent pro-European, whose premiership saw Britain joining the Common Market, Sir Edward's views on the EU were in stark contrast to the eurosceptic line of William Hague's Tory Party.

Perhaps this was reflected in the nature of Mr Hague's tribute to his predecessor as leader.

There was also little love lost between Sir Edward and Margaret Thatcher, whom he never forgave for ousting him as Tory leader after he lost the 1974 election.

Sir Edward Heath
Sir Edward as PM
In some senses he was an unlikely prime minister, seen as out of step with the times in the 1960s and 70s and, as a bachelor, he could scarcely portray himself as a family man.

Pitched against former Labour prime minister Harold Wilson, Mr Heath seemed from another era and yet he managed to pull off the biggest political upset of a generation by winning the 1970 election.

But overall Mr Wilson came out ahead having defeated him in 1966 and then twice in 1974.

Sir Edward Heath
No love lost
Sir Edward's time in power was beset by industrial action and appalling economic difficulties that forced him to introduce a three-day week.

His experience in power was, perhaps, the biggest influence on Lady Thatcher when she took office in 1979 when it came to dealing with the trade unions.

At the last election Sir Edward held his Bexley constituency with a majority of just 3,569 - making his seat far from safe.

He will be succeeded as father of the house by long-serving Labour MP Tam Dalyell.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Pienaar
"His crowning achievement was taking Britain into Europe"
See also:

24 Oct 00 | Politics
23 Oct 00 | Politics
03 Sep 00 | Politics
17 Aug 00 | E-G
24 Oct 00 | Politics
24 Oct 00 | Politics
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