Michael Heseltine: You Ask The Questions

The former deputy PM on whether he knew about John Major's affair, and if he hugs his trees
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The Independent Online

Do you still think the UK should join the euro? GAVIN JARMAN, MILNGAVIE, EAST DUNBARTONSHIRE

I'm sure it will. I don't know when. It depends on the internal politics but all the disasters forecast have failed to materialise and the history of the last 50 years is of Britain hanging back and hoping the European Union will not make progress, but in the end coming to terms with that fact that it has.

More than most, you seem to appreciate the importance of a viable union of European nations in the era of accelerating globalisation. How can you find comfort in the predominantly antediluvian company of your party? JOHN ROMER, LONDON, W5

There's a strong element of Euroscepticism in all parties. My party has been in opposition for nearly 10 years. When they become the next government the realities of world power and politics will ensure that they pursue British self-interest in Europe just as every Conservative government since the 1950s has done. There isn't anywhere else for Britain to go in the world except within the gathering coherence of European decision-making. If we want to fight for British self interest we have to be in a position to influence what is happening in Europe.

You: humane, cultured, progressive, a committed democrat. The Tories: mean-spirited, bigoted, bossy, reactionary. What on earth do you see in them? ROY HAYNES, BEXHILL, EAST SUSSEX

This is a travesty of my party. The Conservatives have been at the forefront of a changing Britain over hundreds of years.

What's the best thing about being a Deputy Prime Minister? EVE BIGALOWSKI, MUSWELL HILL, LONDON

Not being Prime Minister.

Who is the better croquet player: Michael Heseltine or John Prescott? KEITH FERRETT, OXFORD

It's a conflict never likely to be resolved.

Does Mr Prescott work harder as Deputy Prime Minister than you did? SEAN O'TOOLE, CHANDLER'S FORD, HAMPSHIRE

This is the wrong question. The right one is who is the more effective and I will let history judge that.

Legend has it that, in your student days, you drafted your career path to No 10 Downing Street on the back of an envelope. Is it true, and did it work out , excepting the final PM step? And what do you want to achieve in this phase of your life? GORDON MUTCH, SURBITON, LONDON

I have no recollection of this envelope. It seems out of character. My present interests are very clear. I'm deeply fascinated by the publishing company of which I am chairman and I derive endless satisfaction out of the arboretum that we are creating.

Do you feel cheated out of the premiership? THOMAS HALLIBURTON, BOLTON, LANCASHIRE,

No. I don't feel cheated. It simply was not to be.

Which is your favourite tree in Britain and why? RICHARD NICHOLSON, TOLPUDDLE, DORSET

There are so many that are wonderful I hate making a choice, but probably if I had to I would choose a Magnolia wilsoni. There is an extraordinary elegance and simplicity about the stark white flowers with their purple centres.

Did you buy all your own furniture? HILARY PAPWORTH, OXFORD

Yes. My father couldn't have afforded to do it. Alan Clark's father could.

I often see you at Shirley Bassey concerts. Are you a fan? If so, isn't it a teeny-weeny bit gay of you to like her so much? MARY WILKINSON, LUDLOW, SHROPSHIRE

I cannot recollect having been to a Shirley Bassey concert but I have always liked her personally and liked her music. We both come from south Wales.

Do you and Baroness Thatcher exchange Christmas cards? KEITH OAKLEY, MID GLAMORGAN

No.

What did you like about Margaret Thatcher? ANNEMARIE LINTON, CLAPHAM, LONDON

I was always immensely impressed by the discipline she applied to her personal appearance. It is very difficult for men to understand how much more pressure women are subjected to in public life. She took enormous trouble to always appear in a way that was compatible with the dignity of her office.

When did you last speak to Baroness Thatcher and what did you say (if it is repeatable!)? VJ SINGH, WINCHMORE HILL, LONDON

I really have no idea. It was a long time ago.

Do you think Tony Blair is more your sort of PM than Maggie? ALEX MAKINSON, TWICKENHAM, LONDON

Certainly not. The Thatcher government achieved remarkable things. Perhaps we weren't so good at talking about them. Blair's government is infinitely good at talking about things but has achieved little.

Did you know about John Major's affair with Edwina Currie? If not were you surprised? LENA FITZPATRICK, CHESTER, CHESHIRE

John Major is a friend of mine, I wouldn't dream of commenting on his private life.

How will history judge John Major? R JENNINGS, BRISTOL

I think he will be written up in history. His Northern Ireland peace initiative was brave, the Lottery has created the greatest flow of patronage for the arts, culture, heritage and sport in British history and he helped to consolidate the revolution in Britain that the Conservatives began in 1979.

Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Heath, Thatcher and Blair are the Tory leaders since the war years. How would you rate them in order of achievement? COLIN ARMITAGE, LEICESTER

It's very easy to put Blair at the bottom of that list. I wouldn't rank the others because they all made contributions in very different ways but I do think Macmillan and Heath will be remembered as leaders who brought Britain to terms with its very different destiny in the world and I think the Thatcher government went a considerable way to make Britain a more competitive player in the world scene.

You backed David Cameron's leadership so how disappointed are you in his Eurosceptic tendencies? SERENA TRAVERS, SHEFFIELD

I was aware when I supported him that I disagree with him over aspects of European policy. Having said that, I think he has transformed the fortunes of the Conservative Party and indeed has changed the political agenda in this country. I will do all I can to help him win a Conservative victory. I think the prospect of that would be enhanced if he listened to the moderate centre of opinion which sees a priority for Britain in being able to influence developing policy in Europe in a way that suits British self-interest.

Would you pull your party's MEPs out of the European People's Party grouping in Brussels? T MONK, BIRMINGHAM

No. they gave a clear commitment in the last European elections that they would remain and I see no reason for them to break their promise.

I'm thinking of starting a magazine. Do you have any advice? CHRIS KEANE GLASGOW

I couldn't possibly advise without knowing the market, and without knowing your approach to that market. And I wouldn't advise you to tell me, because if you had a good idea there would be a risk that we would do it first.

How is your heart, and what do you do to keep healthy now? TARA JACOBS, ESHER, SURREY

My consultants have been extremely encouraging. I lead a normal life, watching my weight and getting exercise in the garden.

Do you regret storming out of the Cabinet in 1985? L J LAWLESS, MANCHESTER

I didn't storm out of the Cabinet. I folded my papers and walked rather slowly out of the Cabinet. I have always regretted the necessity, but I have never doubted the rightness of the judgement.

How heavy is the mace? And would you recommend swinging it? B NEUHAUS, ASHFORD, KENT

I apologised to the House of Commons, although the real thing that should be remembered is that the Labour government had secured its legislation by cheating and the Labour backbenchers were standing on their benches singing the Red Flag as they took two major British industries and nationalised ownership.

Do you like the nickname Tarzan? And can you yell like him? PAULA JENKINSON, STOKE NEWINGTON, LONDON

I'm indifferent to my nicknames.

Who do you think should play you if Hollywood was making a film of your life? MICHAEL JACOBS, HIGHGATE

Well, I'm up for the offer myself.

How would you respond to critics who suggest your vast estate is a celebration not of plants but of your vanity and your millions? N IQBAL, LONDON, EC1

With a massive yawn.

Can you list a few of your political or historical heroes? DANNY SHEPPHARD, WINCHESTER, HAMPSHIRE

Obviously Churchill.

What advice can you give me to get my hair looking as lovely as yours? And do you blow dry, or just let it dry naturally? LIZ BROWN, WINCHESTER, HAMPSHIRE

It dries fast on its own and without help from me.

Did you ever think of forming a new political party consisting of pro-Europeans across the political spectrum? DIMITRIOS SMPANIAS, UNIVERSITY OF EXETER

No. Churchill pointed the way with his great post war speeches at the Hague Zurich and the Royal Albert Hall, and every Conservative PM has consolidated Britain's place in Europe for the overwhelmingly simple reason that essentially the Conservative Party is a patriotic party that will defend British self interest. I have worked for all those PMs, and I believe today as strongly as I did under their leadership that the consolidation of Europe has ended centuries of bitterness and strife. Of course there are criticisms about the precise form and structure but the only way to change it, if it suits our interests to do so, is to persuade our fellow members that it is in their interests as well. David Cameron will understand this as he faces the realities of power. We have had Conservative PMs who shared the European vision and those who instinctively were Eurosceptics. It is one of the ironies of my political experience that the more Eurosceptic they were, the more British sovereignty they decided to share in the European destiny.

Do you ever hug or talk to your trees? VICKY MACMILLAN, EDINBURGH

I certainly talk to them. How else am I expected to communicate. But hugging no.

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