Passing of an idealist with vision of a Britain locked into Europe

It was an extraordinary achievement, however fraught the project has since become. The French at the time remained reluctant, the Americans disinterested, and the country at large, never mind the majority of Heath's own party, extremely doubtful. That the negotiations were eventually brought to a successful conclusion and the act of accession carried through Parliament was very much due to Sir Edward's personal determination and enthusiasm.

With a distinguished war record as a gunner, he was one of that generation of politicians on both sides of the Channel who saw in a united Europe the only route to a prosperous and, above all, peaceful future for Britain as for the Continent. Others might look at it largely in economic terms - and, indeed, it was mostly on this basis that it was sold to Parliament and the British people - but Heath viewed it largely in political terms. He continued to do so until the end, despite the way his own party turned against the Union and the French and others have since turned against enlargement and the proposed new constitution.

In that sense Sir Edward was an idealist in the best sense of the word. In that sense too it could be said that he spent his force, and his most creative abilities, on a single cause. The concentration on the European issue made him insensitive to the problems of Northern Ireland and the crises brewing on the home front.

The qualities that helped him succeed in pushing the European cause - negotiating skill, a firm grasp of the overall strategic end and an ability to deal with other heads of state - also made him impatient with objections, and blind to changing circumstance. No more than his infinitely subtler opponent, Harold Wilson, could Edward Heath manage Britain's besetting and inter-related problems of inflation, poor productivity and excessive union power. But when it came to the showdown with the miners, he hadn't the sense of public mood to adjust his electoral timing nor the political skills to see his way through the confrontation.

He flirted with the ideas of liberalised markets and a withdrawal of the state that Margaret Thatcher was later to introduce but, when it came to it, his natural instincts were those of an interventionist and a corporatist. A grammar school boy who had made his own way to the top, he believed in a meritocratic elite like so many who had done the same and he gravitated all too easily, especially later, to those who held power abroad.

Could he have matured into an elder statesmen when, having lost two elections in succession, he was ousted from the party leadership by Mrs Thatcher? Was it unbecoming for him to have shown quite such sourness to those who followed him? The answer must be yes, although it is noticeable that neither Lloyd George, Harold Macmillan nor Lady Thatcher herself found it any easier to decline into gracious old age, or to bless their successors. Politicians, as Tony Blair may yet find out, are rarely happy out of office and out of the public eye.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate