RIP Ted Heath, My Hero

Sir Edward Heath died this evening (2005-07-17) aged 89.

Prime Minister from 1970 until 1974, he was the first of the "wet" Conservatives and a bit of a hero in my mind. He was the man responsible for taking the UK into the European Union and also for turning the Conservative party from an aristocratic and racist party into a modern equalitarian party, and many consider him to be Britain's first gay Prime Minister as a lifelong batchelor. Heath was also a genuine hero of the Second World War, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the European campaign.

Unlike Conservative leaders before him, Heath came from a working class background, his father a builder and his mother a maid. He defeated far-right extremists in the party, notably the racist Enoch Powell who he beat in the Conservative leadership election.

As with so many moderates, his efforts to please all of the people all of the time, bit him back, and in taking a more moderate stance against the trade unions than previous Conservative governments, he ended up with a strike situation so bad that there was only enough electricity for a 3-day working week. He was defeated after only one term, then his leadership challenged and won by Margaret Thatcher.

With such a poor record in office, he seems an unlikely candidate for being one of my heroes, but other than taking us into the European Union (desperately needed then, to bolster our flagging economy and foriegn relations, even if it isn't so relevant today), his achievements were mostly inside the Conservative party. He really did turn the party around, a visionary "one nation" figure around whom all could rally, no matter what their background.

So... why was he one of my heroes?

He's a shining example of exactly what the Conservative party, and this country, needs right now; a nice bloke. Sure, nice blokes don't get successive terms in office, and just "meaning well" doesn't often achieve lasting results, but once in a while, the country needs someone like him to bring everyone together. They may only stay together for a short time, but a lot of healing takes place very quickly, and the extremists and radicals come away a lot less extreme and radical as a result.

Public Domain - Andrew Oakley - 2005-07-17

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