Edward Heath

Biography of Edward Heath

Sir Edward Richard George "Ted" Heath (9 July 1916 – 17 July 2005) was a British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1970–74) and as Leader of the Conservative Party (1965–75).

Born in Broadstairs, Kent, Heath studied at Oxford and served in the Second World War. He was first elected in the 1950 general election, for Bexley and was government Chief Whip during the 1950s. Entering the Cabinet as Minister of Labour in 1959, he was then Lord Privy Seal responsible for Macmillan's unsuccessful EEC entry negotiations, then President of the Board of Trade. In 1965 Heath won the leadership of the Conservative Party against Reginald Maudling and Enoch Powell. The general election of 1966 saw the Labour government of Harold Wilson achieve a large increase in seats, however Heath remained Conservative leader.

Heath became Prime Minister after winning the 1970 general election. In 1971, Heath oversaw the decimalisation of British coinage and in 1972, he implemented major reform to the UK's system of local government. In foreign policy, Heath took the UK into the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973. Heath's premiership oversaw the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, with the suspension of the Stormont parliament and the imposition of direct British rule. Unofficial talks with IRA delegates were unsuccessful, as was the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973, which caused Ulster Unionists to withdraw from the Conservative whip.

Heath also attempted to curb union power with the Industrial Relations Act 1971, and had hoped to deregulate the economy and make a transfer from direct to indirect taxation. However rising unemployment in 1972 caused Heath to reflate the economy at the cost of high inflation, which he attempted to control by prices and incomes policy. Two miners' strikes, in 1972 and 1974, proved damaging to the government, with the latter causing the implementation of the Three-Day Week to conserve energy. The general election in February 1974, an attempt to win a public mandate to face down the miners' wage demands, resulted in a hung parliament. Following a failed attempt to establish a coalition with the Liberals, Heath conceded power to a minority Labour government under Harold Wilson, which won a small majority in a second election in October that year.

Despite losing two general elections in one year, Heath aimed to continue as Conservative leader. In 1975 however, his former Education and Science Secretary Margaret Thatcher defeated Heath for leadership of the party. Returning to the backbenches, Heath became an active critic of Thatcher's policies as Prime Minister. He retired as an MP in 2001 and died in 2005.

Heath was a world-class yachtsman and a musician of near-professional standard. He was also one of only four British Prime Ministers never to have married.

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