Simon Carr: The Sketch

Farewell to a big man, with faint but charitable praise
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The Independent Online

Anyway, I put on £100 at 16-1. Do you find those odds a little mean? They know what they're doing.

Mr Blair's tribute to Edward Heath included the story of their first meeting. His first words to the young Blair at a function were: "Are you an MP? Which party?" Blair told him. "Well you don't look like one and you don't sound like one."

You should have heard the Tories hooting. Let us remember that the Prime Minister is still capable of making his implacable parliamentary foes hoot. I was lucky not to have been offered 10-1.

"And you're a bloody useless Opposition," Heath went on. Blair said: "So he told me what we should be doing." A Tory heckle: "And you did it!" Poor old Edward Heath hardly won any elections. He only had one ambition in the past 25 years, to outlive Margaret Thatcher, even that has been denied him.

The House struggled with their tributes. The father of the House (name escapes me, and the face isn't that familiar) came up with an unusually blunt assessment. "He was an easier man to respect than to like." The more charitable way of putting this came up often. "When you got to know him he was a very kind man." It's like that Tatler code from the 1950s and 1960s. In picture captions of debutantes, "enthusiastic" meant "fat". "Kind when you got to know him" is the lowest form of obituarial praise.

He was one of the last big men in the House. He may have spent 25 years slumped on the front bench but he had a voice so large he hardly had to use it to fill the chamber. It was one of those huge, old-fashioned, stump-speaker's voices. He had an authority and a sense of command we don't get these days (it doesn't work any more).

"No chip!" Ian Taylor said, "No chip on his shoulder." But I wonder if that can be true. Those humble origins of his were a terrible liability after the war. Officers who came up from the ranks were "temporary gentlemen". You could tell from someone's voice whether they were from the upper or lower end of the lower upper middle class.

Outside the chamber, a Tory MP considered the slights and sneers that Sir Edward's accent must have produced in the early years and wondered if they were the cause of his many-layered protections, and later isolation. It's different, today, in Tony Blair world.