Why Sir Edward seems not to be beefing

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Some pro-European Tories are blaming plans for a Number Ten celebration of Sir Edward Heath's 80th birthday on the former prime minister's uncharacteristic silence over the Government's handling of the beef crisis.

While other leading and normally more moderate pro-Europeans such as Douglas Hurd, the former foreign secretary, have warned against engaging in prolonged "trench warfare" with the European Union over the ban, Sir Edward has so far said nothing on the burning issue of the day.

One prominent MP on the pro-European wing of the Tories suggested privately that Sir Edward was restraining himself out of courtesy to the Government because of plans by John Major for a dinner in honour of Sir Edward on 17 July, to be attended by the Queen.

The 60 or so guests are expected to include Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Mrs Schmidt, Lord and Lady Whitelaw, the Speaker Betty Boothroyd, Sir Peter and Lady Ustinov, Lord and Lady Menuhin and Sir Robin and Lady Butler.

The dinner will be followed next day by a celebration at the Savoy Hotel to be hosted by Sir Edward himself.

The truth about Sir Edward's silence, however, appears more complicated.

First, he may well pronounce on the beef issue soon. Plans are under way for a newspaper article in which is likely to try to explain to a British audience why public opinion in some other countries is so disturbed by what they regard as the dangers of BSE-infected beef.

Secondly, Sir Edward has been absorbed recently in his memoirs. One friend says his main preoccupations now are located "somewhere in the 1950s" as he records his career in public life, which spans nearly half a century.

Or perhaps the former prime minister, famous since the Thatcher days for his role as the pro-European Cassandra of the Tory party, is mellowing in the run up to the general election.