Heath was British Conservative prime minister from 1970 to 1974, a troubled period which came to be seen as reflecting the failure of post-war consensual Conservatism, and produced a backlash in his party that brought Margaret Thatcher to the leadership in 1975.
Edward Heath was born on 9 July 1916 in Broadstairs, Kent, the son of a carpenter. Heath succeeded in gaining scholarships to grammar school and to Oxford University. He served in the Royal Artillery during World War Two. In 1950, he became Conservative member of parliament for Bexley in 1950, minister of labour in 1959 and lord privy seal in 1960. In the latter post, he was responsible for the Harold Macmillan government's attempt to enter the European Community in 1963. Heath, a deeply committed advocate of European union, proved to be an impressive negotiator, but could do little to prevent the veto of the French premier, Charles de Gaulle.
In 1965, Heath became Conservative Party leader - the first in modern times who was not from an upper-class background. He was presented as young and classless, a Tory answer to the modernising populism of Labour's Harold Wilson. Respected, but not particularly liked, his time as leader of the opposition was not a conspicuous success, and it was against all expectations that he succeeded in winning the 1970 general election.
As prime minister, Heath's policies seemed muddled. His only clear success was in fulfilling his long-held ambition of taking Britain into the European Community, in 1973. He preserved the consensual and moderate policies of his 1950s predecessors, but he also felt obliged to restrain public expenditure through deflationary policies, and to tackle increasing labour unrest by trying to reduce the power of trade unions. When faced with the muscle of the militant miners' union, however, Heath backed down, executing a 'u-turn' for which the Conservative Party's right wing never forgave him. Mass strikes continued, in parallel with ongoing violence in Northern Ireland. The 1974 General Election was inconclusive and Heath resigned as prime minister, to be replaced by Harold Wilson and a minority Labour government. The following year Thatcher replaced Heath as Conservative leader.
Heath remained in parliament until 2001, a constant reminder to Thatcher of the party's moderate and Europhile traditions, which Heath angrily believed she had betrayed. He died on 17 July 2005.
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