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

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Personal Finance Editor: Cutting out the middle man could spell disaster for employees and consumers alike

Simon Read
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch  

Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes tell you what to think. Don't let them

Memphis Barker
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week