Edward Heath took Britain into the Common Market and the conservative Party has never been the same . A new book considers his legacyby Philip Collins / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
On the evening of 28th October 1971, the day on which the House of Commons had handsomely approved Britain’s proposed membership of the European Economic Community, Ted Heath went back to Downing Street and played, on the clavichord, for his father and his brother and some close friends, the first prelude in C major, from the first book of Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier. Heath said later that this moment “would always remain of supreme importance to me.” The European triumph and an ode to joy expressed in music. It is Ted Heath in an anecdote.
Heath is hardly an exemplar in Tory politics being, as they see it today, on the wrong side of the two big issues of the late 20th century: corporatism and Europe. When he rates a mention it is as a bogeyman, but he has mostly been scribbled out of history. That verdict is not entirely without warrant, but it is important to note that this book gives the reader a significant jolt.
It is easy to forget what an extraordinary man Heath was. To come from a humble background in Broadstairs on the Isle of Thanet, the son of a jobbing builder and a lady’s maid and to become Prime Minister is accomplishment enough. To win an organ scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford and in later life be good enough, albeit as a gifted amateur, to conduct symphony orchestras in London and Berlin is another. To then be only the second British man to have skippered a crew that won the Sydney to Hobart sailing race is quite stunning. Heath did all three of these things. By anyone’s reckoning he is a remarkable character.
So why does his party erase his record? This is partly about the character of the man, the soul hidden behind the clavichord, expressed in the cadences of Bach. Heath was, by all accounts, a difficult and troubled man. The main virtue of this book is the portrait of him that emerges like a bust coming out of marble. It is a hard book to categorise. It is not quite a biography although it proceeds chronologically, starting with birth and ending with death, all events viewed through the eyes of Heath. It is not quite a memoir either, even though the author worked for Heath in the latter’s dotage, between 1995 and 2000. It reads more like an extended radio script in which the transitions need a bit of smoothing. Often, Michael McManus abandons the authorial voice to say things like “and now Douglas Hurd takes up the story.”