History and Tour

Edward Heath

Edward Heath Born: 9 July 1916 in St. Peter’s, Kent

First entered Parliament: 23 February 1950

Age he became PM: 53 years, 335 days

Maiden Speech: 26 June 1950 speaking in favour of the Schuman Plan for a European Coal and Steel Community

Total time as PM: Three years, 259 days

Died: 17 July 2005 in Salisbury

Facts and figures

Education: Chatham House Grammar School and Balliol College, Oxford

Family: Edward Heath is the elder of two sons, and is unmarried

Interests: Music and sailing

Biography

Maiden speech

During World War Two he served in the Royal Artillery. Heath won the constituency of Bexley for the Conservatives in 1950. His maiden speech concerned European unity an issue which was to figure prominently in his career.

Quickly appointed to the Whips Office, he held the post of Chief Whip from 1955-59, and as such was credited with keeping the parliamentary party together during the Suez Crisis.

In 1960 Heath was appointed Minister for Labour, and later Lord Privy Seal with responsibility for negotiating EC entry. De Gaulle’s veto of British membership was a bitter blow in 1963.

Britain finally joined the EEC while Heath was PM The Prime Minister, Alec Douglas-Home, subsequently made him President of the Board of Trade. His competence and success there helped Heath’s prospects for the leadership, which he won in 1965, aged 49.

It was then unusual for a Conservative leader not to be upper class, and it was hoped that a middle class leader would change the party’s image in the face of Harold Wilson’s down-to-earth Labour party.

In Opposition Heath proposed an agenda of trade union reform, tax cuts and spending restraints.

However, in government from 1970-74 the steep rises in the price of commodities and oil forced Heath’s administration to rescue businesses and adopt price and incomes policies to combat inflation.

Heath’s term in office also featured industrial action and the deployment of troops in Northern Ireland.

Notable achievement

One notable achievement was that Heath was finally able to lead Britain into EC membership, a long-held ambition.

In February 1974 the Conservatives lost the election, despite winning more votes than Labour overall.

A second defeat in October seriously damaged Heath’s position. He was defeated in a leadership contest in 1975 by Margaret Thatcher.

After the 1979 general election he was offered, and declined, the job of Ambassador to the United States of America. He continued to be seen as a figure head by some on the left of the party up to the time of the 1981 Conservative Party conference.

Heath was critical of Thatcher’s policies and continued his vocal opposition to the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party in the Commons. He represented Old Bexley & Sidcup in the House of Commons, and was Father of the House from 1992-2001.

Sir Edward died on 17 July 2005. Tony Blair paid tribute, saying:

“He was a man of great integrity and beliefs he held firmly from which he never wavered.”

Quote unquote

“If politicians lived on praise and thanks they’d be forced into some other line of business.”

Did you know?

Heath was the son of a carpenter from Broadstairs in Kent. He went to a state grammar school, and succeeded in the exam to get to Balliol College, Oxford.

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