|Term of office|
June 19, 1970 - March 4, 1974
|Political party||Conservative Party|
|Preceded by||Harold Wilson|
|Succeeded by||Harold Wilson|
|Born|| July 9, 1916 |
|Died|| July 17, 2005 (aged 89) |
Heath's electoral victory in 1970 was something of a surprise, as the incumbent Labour Party was comfortably ahead in the polls. Some have attributed the sudden souring of public opinion to England's defeat in the soccer World Cup the week before, or, perhaps more plausibly, to some bad economic figures that emerged during the election campaign.
Heath's most lasting achievement was to lead the UK into the EEC (later the European Union) in 1973. His tenure, however, was blighted by industrial unrest, including a devastating miners' strike. This resulted in the famous 'three-day-week', in which commercial consumption of electricity was limited to three days per week, with the exception of essential services.
In early 1974, Health called an election on the slogan "Who rules Britain?", the subtext being "Who rules Britain: the elected government or the miners' unions?". This election, held in February, produced a "hung Parliament", in which no single party held a majority. Minor parties such as the Ulster Unionist Party and the Liberal Party refused to form a coalition with the Conservatives, and Heath accordingly resigned. Labour's Harold Wilson returned as Prime Minister, and won a small overall majority of three seats in a further election in October 1974.
Heath was challenged for the Conservative leadership by Margaret Thatcher in 1975. To the surprise of many, Thatcher emerged victorious from the leadership contest, and Heath remained on bad personal and political terms with Thatcher for many years afterwards. When she was forced to resign as Prime Minister in 1990, Heath called his office and, using a phrase made famous by Thatcher in the Falklands War, said: "Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!".
Heath remained an MP until 2001, and was generally perceived as being firmly on the left of the Conservative Party. (The maverick Labour politician Tony Benn claims that Heath once told him that he, Heath, was politically to the left of Labour's Tony Blair.) He died in 2005.
He was, perhaps, rare among career politicians in having a significant personal 'hinterland'. He was an accomplished musician (the organ being his instrument of choice) and yachtsman, competing internationally for Great Britain in his yacht Morning Cloud III even while Prime Minister. He had served in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War, rising to the rank of Colonel; the war, and the years before the war (when, as a student, he had travelled around Germany, even attending a Nuremberg rally, experiences which had appalled him) helped shape his political and social attitudes.
His personal relations with colleagues and others were more problematic. His personal mannerisms were somewhat cold and aloof, possibly a defense mechanism for a man from the lower middle class, a grammar school boy, mixing, both at Oxford and later in the Conservative Party, in environments dominated by the upper middle and upper classes of former public (US: private) schoolboys. During the party leadership campaign in 1975, he declined to canvass personally: that, and previous snubs to party colleagues, almost certainly contributed largely to his defeat. His hauteur was unsoftened by his private life. He never married or had children.