Father Ted, 84, calls it a day

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Sir Edward Heath, the former Conservative prime minister and Parliament's longest serving MP, has announced his intention to retire from politics at the next election.

Sir Edward Heath, the former Conservative prime minister and Parliament's longest serving MP, has announced his intention to retire from politics at the next election.

Tony Blair led tributes to Sir Edward, 84, who has served in Parliament for half a century and is the Father of the House of Commons.

Sir Edward, who was Prime Minister between 1970 and 1974, has remained an active member of the Commons since Margaret (now Baroness) Thatcher ousted him from the Tory leadership in 1975.

On Monday he presided over the election of Michael Martin as the new House of Commons Speaker.

Sir Edward, who was an international class yachtsman, regarded his greatest achievement as taking Britain into the Common Market in 1972. His enthusiasm for Europe set him at odds with Lady Thatcher, with whom he has always had a frosty relationship.

Announcing his intention to retire in a letter to Old Bexley and Sidcup Conservatives, Sir Edward 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."

Mr Blair said: "Sir Edward has made an outstanding contribution to British political life.The Commons will be a poorer place without him."

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