Bruce Anderson: A much better man than his sour and ungracious reputation might suggest

'Within months of losing office, he had become the incredible sulk, his political vocation for the rest of his life'

Share
Related Topics

Yet he was a much better man than that. He had a good war, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In the aftermath of Suez, he was a serious chief whip. At that stage, the Tory party seemed close to disintegration.

When Harold Macmillan took over from Anthony Eden, he wondered whether his government would survive for more than six weeks. In those days, it was easier to manage the Tory party. Most MPs had a military background, and were used to taking orders; the knights of the shire were more obedient than their successors, the esquires of the suburbs. Even so, Ted Heath deserves credit for ensuring that, despite his premier's forebodings, the party was in a good enough shape to win a majority of 100 at the 1959 election.

He was also serious about Europe. At the end of the Second World War, he and his contemporaries contemplated a Europe in ruins: shattered cities, starving populations, broken nations; thousands of years of civilisation on the edge of collapse. Ted Heath resolved that must never happen again; that Europe must transcend warring nationalisms and find survival in unity.

That was not an ignoble vision. But there was a problem. Sir Edward never tried to share his idealism with the British people. Indeed, he not only concealed his real goals; he lied about them. Anyone listening to him during the campaign for British membership would have been forgiven for concluding that he merely wanted Britain to join a common market, with minimal loss of sovereignty.

Convinced that Europe was a vital national interest and which would rapidly become apparent once we had joined, Ted Heath felt justified in lulling the voters with a false prospectus. Thirty years later, that founding act of deception is still poisoning Britain's relations with Europe.

Europe apart, his premiership was a failure, though that was not his fault. Like Harold Wilson before him, and Wilson and James Callaghan after him, he was destroyed by his inability to bring the trade unions within the rule of law, or to control inflation and public spending. In those years, Britain seemed ungovernable. To his credit, Ted made a more thorough-going and honest attempt to confront the difficulty than either of his Labour rivals. But success had to wait until Margaret Thatcher.

He then lost the premiership, the Tory leadership - and a great opportunity. Out of office, he could have become the British leader of the European cause. Instead, he was far more concerned with revenging himself on Mrs Thatcher. Justifying the ways of Europe to Britain would have required a big personality who could inspire public opinion. Instead, Ted gave way to petty-mindedness. Within months of losing office, he had become the incredible sulk: his political vocation for the rest of his life.

Younger Tories who shared his European views would assure one that he could be excellent company and was even capable of making a joke. As the years passed, it was harder and harder to find evidence for those propositions. As partisanship gives way to the broader perspectives of old age, many politicians ripen into wit and wisdom: but not Ted. Instead of mellowing, he soured.

That had a sad consequence. In his latter years, Ted Heath was frequently unhappy. He often gave the impression he was solely interested in the company of heads of state, or at least heads of government.

As they had other demands on their time, the old boy suffered loneliness. So oppressed was he about the way in which the world was going wrong that he seemed unable to take pleasure in life's simpler enjoyments.

Three or four years ago, he gave a luncheon at his house in Cathedral Close, Salisbury. Even by his standards, he was wretched company: surly, grumpy and petulant. Finally, one of his guests, Ray Seitz, the then American ambassador, could stand it no longer. "Tell, me Ted ," he said: "You've seen a few presidents and a fair few prime ministers: which of them had the best working relationship?"

"Oh, Nixon and I, of course."

"But aren't there other examples?"

"Yes, I suppose Harold Macmillan and JFK."

"But what about more recent times, Ted? What about the 1980s?"

Ted Heath coloured and looked furious. "I don't know what you mean."

His inability to mention Thatcher's name in any favourable context was a sad instance of a serious figure giving way to vanity and childishness. But as the years pass, and those aspects of Ted Heath's personality fade, there will be a recovery in his reputation.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition