Michael Howard: 'Europe was the moving force of his political career'

From a tribute by the leader of the Conservative Party to the former prime minister Sir Edward Heath, delivered to House of Commons, at Westminster
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The Independent Online

Even before it began he was aware of the dangers that lay ahead. As a young man he heard Hitler address a Nuremberg Rally. And he actually met Goering, Goebbels and Himmler, whom he described as "the most evil man I've ever met".

In the famous 1938 Oxford by-election, he opposed the Conservative candidate, Quintin Hogg, and campaigned instead for AD Lindsay, the Master of Balliol, who stood on an anti- appeasement platform.

After the war he saw political integration in Europe as the best way to avoid a repeat of its horrors. That became the moving force of his political career. And as Prime Minister he succeeded where Macmillan had failed, by taking Britain into the Common Market.

It was controversial when he did it - he needed the votes of members of other parties to get the legislation through this House. And it has remained controversial ever since. But Ted never wavered in his attachment to the European dream. He was utterly and unswervingly consistent. His maiden speech in this House was in the debate on the Schuman Plan. His final speech was dominated by the same issue.

He was, however, less successful in achieving his other political objectives.

Before the 1970 election he outlined an exciting programme to revitalise the nation's economy based on a smaller state, lower taxes, less regulation and trade union reform. The problems of rampant inflation and overweening trade union power that were to dog his four years in office made him change course and adopt instead policies which were unequal to the challenge.

Yet many of the changes he originally tried, and failed, to put in place were made, 10 years later, by his successor, Margaret Thatcher.