Edward Heath

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Edward Heath (1966)
Edward Heath (1987)

Sir Edward Richard George Heath , KG , MBE (born July 9, 1916 in Broadstairs , Kent , † July 17, 2005 in Salisbury , Wiltshire ) was a conservative British politician and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1974 . First he served as an officer in World War II and was a ministerial official. Heath had been a Member of Parliament since 1950 and party leader of the Conservatives since 1965; he belonged to the moderate one-nation wing of his party. After both parliamentary elections in February and October 1974 ended with losses for the Conservative Party, the party replaced him in 1975 by the more conservative Margaret Thatcher .


Parental home and education

Heath was born the son of a carpenter who had worked his way up to a builder and a domestic servant. After attending the state grammar school, he began studying at Balliol College, Oxford . As a talented musician, he won an organ scholarship which enabled him to study philosophy , politics and economics . During his studies he found himself with the conservatives, but unlike many conservatives he was an active opponent of the appeasement policy . As such, he was promoted by Balliol College when he ran for president of the Oxford Union Society in 1939 . As a young student, he traveled to National Socialist Germany for several months . Only a few years later, Heath returned to the devastated and defeated country as a British officer. These experiences were one of the main reasons why Heath later became enthusiastic and committed to the unification of Europe.

Political career

During World War II , Heath served in the Royal Artillery between 1940 and 1945 , most recently as a lieutenant colonel . After demobilization in 1946, he joined the Territorial Army . He worked as an officer in the Civil Aviation Department until he was elected Member of Parliament for Bexley in 1950, when he defeated an old Oxford Union colleague, Ashley Bramall. He represented the constituency of Bexley as a member of parliament for the next 50 years. As early as 1951, Heath was in favor of Great Britain joining the coal and steel union . In 1955 he started as a cheerleader ( " whip his group in") the House of Commons on. Due to the convention that whips did not speak in parliament, he managed to stay out of the Suez crisis (1956). When Anthony Eden's resignation was announced, he submitted a report on the position of the Conservative group. This report, which prepared the selection of Eden's successor, was very beneficial to Harold Macmillan , who then served as Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963.

From 1959 to 1960, Heath was a member of the British Cabinet as Secretary of Labor. In 1960 Heath was appointed Keeper of the Lord Seal, a sort of minister with no portfolio. In this role, as a staunch European, he led the accession negotiations to the EEC on the British side , which ultimately failed due to the objection of French President Charles de Gaulle . His decidedly pro-European stance was honored with the Charlemagne Prize of the city of Aachen in 1963 . Under Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home , he became President of the Trade Authority and Minister for Industry, Trade and Regional Development in 1963/1964. During this time he abolished price monitoring in the trade.

After the Conservatives were voted out of office in 1964, Alec Douglas-Home changed the party statutes and paved the way for a new chairman to be elected. Heath was elected in July 1965 as the youngest party leader of the Conservatives and parliamentary group leader of his party in the lower house. After the Conservatives' defeat against Harold Wilson in the general election on March 31, 1966 , he was not undisputed in his party; in particular the right-wing conservative MP Enoch Powell criticized Heath's moderate policies and was long considered a possible successor. The party's success in the June 18, 1970 general election took all contemporary commentators by surprise and was viewed as his personal triumph.


From April 1 to 8, 1990, Heath held seminars on European politics as a visiting professor ( Helen L. DeRoy Visiting Professor ) at the University of Michigan . In August 2003, while on vacation in Salzburg , he suffered a pulmonary embolism from which he did not fully recover. He died nearly two years later at a pneumonia .

Heath remained a bachelor his life . After his death, his house in Salisbury was converted into a small museum.


Shortly before the 1970 general election, his shadow cabinet published a document that was published at a conference at the Selsdon Park Hotel. Contrary to Heath's previous line, the Selsdon document called for a monetarist policy and heavy savings in the public sector. Labor leader Harold Wilson labeled his opponent in the election campaign as Selsdon Man (an allusion to the Piltdown Man ) in order to brand him as a reactionary "Stone Age man". In the British general election on June 18, 1970 , Heath prevailed against Wilson, who had been prime minister since 1964. He was appointed Prime Minister on June 23. On July 20, his cabinet suffered an early setback following the sudden cardiac death of Chancellor Iain Macleod .

As the first prime minister of the conservatives from the petty-bourgeois milieu, he governed pragmatically on all economic and domestic issues. Against all odds , he pushed through Great Britain's accession to the EC in 1972. In financial policy, he initiated a significant change from direct to indirect taxation. His intention to restrict the power of the trade unions by law failed due to fierce resistance from the trade unions, who successfully torpedoed Heath's plans with strikes. The resulting polarized climate led to the subsequent overthrow of the government.

Heath's government made little effort to contain spending. The reductions in the education budget - Minister Margaret Thatcher - led to the abolition of school milk feeding instead of the restriction of the Open University .

His policy on the Northern Ireland conflict was contradicting itself. The British government set up the Military Reaction Force , a unit of the secret service that, according to its critics , was conducting state terrorism in Northern Ireland and further fueling the conflict. Catholics, whether IRA members or not, were shot in the street. On the other hand, his cabinet endeavored to achieve a peaceful settlement with the democratic political parties. The Sunningdale Accords , though achieved, were fiercely opposed by many unionists, especially Ian Paisley . The Ulster Unionist Party dropped its support for the Conservatives in parliament, so the agreement failed. This failure in Northern Ireland contributed to Heath's subsequent fall.

The galloping inflation (after the currency was converted to the decimal system in 1971) brought him into a confrontation with the National Union of Mineworkers , one of the most powerful unions. The energy shortage ( before the first oil crisis ) meant that the industry had to introduce the three-day week in order to save energy. In terms of economic policy, the situation in Great Britain was critical after four years in Heath's government: 1974 saw the largest trade deficit in its history (four billion pounds), the inflation rate was 15 percent, and 1.5 million workers received unemployment benefits because of the three-day week.

Heath was looking for a break in an early election with which he wanted to improve his majority in parliament. His electoral movement built on the slogan Who governs Britain? on; Heath expected a clear election victory to strengthen his back in the dispute with the unions. The general election in February 1974 led to a stalemate ( Hung parliament ). The Conservatives won a majority of the vote, but the Labor Party won a majority of the seats because the Northern Irish Ulster Unionists refused to support the Conservatives. Heath then took up coalition negotiations with the Liberal Party . When these failed, Harold Wilson formed a minority cabinet and was confirmed in office, which was supported by a wafer-thin majority in a second general election in October .

Between the elections, the Center for Policy Studies (CPS), a Conservative Party (" Tories ") discussion group , began diagnosing the Heath government's failures from a monetary-market perspective. Keith Joseph spearheaded this trend . Although Margaret Thatcher was also a member of the CPS, she was seen as a balance to Heath's close ally, James Prior .

Term expires

After losing three out of four elections (based on the number of parliamentary seats), Heath was blamed by many Conservative MPs, party activists and media sympathetic to the party. He enjoyed more sympathy among the wider electorate, in part because of his announced readiness for a government of national unity.

It seemed that Heath would have prevailed as a conservative party leader if he had relied on the loyalty of his colleagues from the front row. At that time, the Conservatives' statutes allowed the Conservatives to fill a candidate gap only for the duration of an election campaign, but did not provide a clear procedure for a chairman to seek either a new mandate during an ongoing legislature or one for competitors to challenge the chairman.

In 1974, Heath came under massive pressure to revise the rules. A committee was set up to work out proposals for the necessary amendments to the statutes, which Heath wanted to submit to the next nomination. Heath initially expected to be re-elected with a comfortable majority for lack of clear challengers, as Enoch Powell had left the party and Keith Joseph had disqualified himself through controversial statements about birth control. The determination of Airey Neave , who was looking for a real challenger on behalf of some disappointed backbenchers, combined with Margaret Thatcher's resolution to have one of the CPS-line MPs represent their cause in the group, ultimately led Thatcher to stand up declared herself a candidate.

Because the statutes allowed new candidates to vote in the second round, the chairman should not be confirmed by too large a majority that would have excluded a second round. Margaret Thatcher's challenge was seen as a stalking horse . Her campaign manager Airey Neave was later accused of deliberately downplaying her support to attract voters from Heath, who lost 119-130 in the first ballot on February 4, 1975 (16 votes for underdog Hugh Fraser and 11 abstentions). Heath then withdrew from the vote and supported William Whitelaw in the second round of voting , Thatcher in the vote the following week with 79 to 146 votes (with 19 votes for Geoffrey Howe and James Prior , 11 for John Peyton and 2 abstentions ) was subject.


Heath's grave in Salisbury Cathedral

Heath embittered his defeat; for many years he persisted in criticizing the ideological realignment of his party. After the May 1979 elections - Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister - he was offered the post of Ambassador to the United States, which he refused. Until the 1981 congress, he was seen as a leader of the left wing of his party.

In the second election in 1974, Heath spoke out in favor of an all-party government. Some commentators believed that after the loss of the presidency, Heath's goal would be a major crisis in British politics in which he could lead such a government as elder statesman . But there was no such crisis that disrupted conventional political processes and called for such a government.

Until his retirement from Parliament in the general election in June 2001 , Heath represented the constituency of London Old Bexley and Sidcup as backbencher. For a long time he was the longest serving member of parliament ("father of the house"). In 1992 he was knighted as a Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter.

He spent his retirement in his house ("Arundells") directly opposite Salisbury Cathedral , where his urn was also buried after his death. A grave slab embedded in the floor of the cathedral marks the place: "Edward Heath: Statesman, Musician, Sailor".

False accusation of child abuse

In mid-2015, there was speculation that Heath might have been implicated in child abuse cases dating back decades . After completing a two-year investigation, police said there was enough evidence to question Heath about the allegations if he were still alive. However, it was stressed at the same time that this in no way removed the presumption of innocence and that in England the threshold for suspicion by the police was low. Ultimately, it turned out that the allegations against Heath and other high-ranking British people were completely fabricated by the key witness Carl Beech, a notorious liar, busybody, cheater and pedophile. In July 2019, Beech was sentenced to 18 years in prison for this, and the British police faced serious allegations of not having noticed the inconsistencies in Beech's statements earlier and not having interviewed witnesses from Beech's environment. The extensive investigations had cost more than £ 2.5 million and numerous people had been wrongly suspected of being pedophilia.

Honorary positions and hobbies

He was very successful in his sailing hobby: in 1969 he won the Sydney-Hobart Regatta with his yacht Morning Cloud ( S&S 34) according to a calculated time. In 1971, during his tenure as Prime Minister, he skippered and owned his new yacht Morning Cloud (S&S 42) in the famous sailing competition for the Admiral's Cup , which he won with his UK team.

From 1977 to 1979 he was a member of the North-South Commission . After his tenure as head of the British government, Sir Edward Heath also worked as a conductor of symphony orchestras such as the European Union Youth Orchestra .


  • Oliver Bange : Karlsprize, Crisis and Concurrence - Edward Heath and Britain's European Policy in 1963 . In: Guido Müller (Ed.): Germany and the West. International Relations in the 20th Century. Festschrift for Klaus Schwabe on his 65th birthday (= historical messages , supplement 29). Steiner, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-515-07251-9 , pp. 298-306.
  • Denis MacShane: Heath (20 British Prime Ministers of the 20th Century). House Publishing Ltd, London 2006, ISBN 978-1-904950-69-1 .

Web links

Commons : Edward Heath  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files


  1. ^ A b Edward Heath: A profile of the former UK prime minister. BBC News, October 4, 2017, accessed July 31, 2019 .
  2. ^ Charlemagne Prize, laureate 1963
  3. ^ University of Michigan. College of Literature (Ed.): Heath discusses European Politics and the World. LSA Magazine . tape 12 , no. 2 , p. 37 (English, Google Books preview ).
  4. ^ University of Michigan (Ed.): Proceedings of the Board of Regents July 1989 - June 1990 . S. 184 (English, Google Books preview ).
  5. Does England have to vote again? Der Spiegel, 10/1974
  6. ^ Philip Cowley, Matthew Bailey: Peasants' Uprising or Religious War? Re-Examining the 1975 Conservative Leadership Contest . In: British Journal of Political Science . tape 30 , no. 4 . Cambridge University Press, October 2000, pp. 599-629 , JSTOR : 194287 (English).
  7. ^ Edward Heath abuse claims: Met police investigating. BBC , August 4, 2015, accessed August 4, 2015 .
  8. Ex-Prime Minister Heath may have been involved in a pedophilia scandal. Spiegel Online , August 3, 2015, accessed August 4, 2015 .
  9. Jump up ↑ More and more evidence against ex-premier: Just the tip of the iceberg? ORF.at, August 5, 2015. Retrieved August 6, 2015.
  10. Police say there were grounds to suspect Edward Heath over child abuse claims. In: The Guardian . September 30, 2017, accessed October 5, 2017 .
  11. ^ Carl Beech: Liar, fraudster and pedophile. BBC News, July 26, 2019, accessed July 26, 2019 .
  12. Royal Ocean Racing Club: Admiral's Cup - History of the Admiral's Cup (1971) , English, accessed January 12, 2020