In de­fence of Ed­ward Heath

Ed­ward Heath’s rep­u­ta­tion as an old sour­puss was as un­de­served as the charges of pae­dophilia against him, writes Robert Chesshyre, who re­mem­bers him in pri­vate as ex­cel­lent com­pany

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

Ihave only once re­ceived a Christ­mas card from a Prime Min­is­ter, and much to my sur­prise – I am a life­long Left-of-cen­tre voter – the sender was the late Ed­ward Heath, Con­ser­va­tive PM from 1970 to 1974. I was all the more sur­prised be­cause Heath was not renowned for so­cial graces. He was por­trayed as a grump, and re­cently his mem­ory has been tar­nished by in­nu­en­does (he was a bach­e­lor) of pae­dophilia. Those who knew him well are con­vinced of his in­no­cence, and, for what it is worth, I fully share that be­lief. It is tragic that this pub­licly stiff and aus­tere man should have been thus vil­i­fied ten years af­ter his death in 2005.

The lat­est from the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion is that Wiltshire po­lice re­searchers are to spend a year in the Bodleian Li­brary at Ox­ford Univer­sity ex­am­in­ing 4,500 crates of Heath pa­pers. As the Times said, lo­cal res­i­dents would ‘be well ad­vised to in­vest in new safety locks, high-tech alarms and Al­sa­tian dogs. Their con­sta­bles are busy else­where’.

My con­nec­tion with Heath came about through re­port­ing the two gen­eral elec­tions of 1974, when on be­half of the

Ob­server I trav­elled the coun­try in his wake. At first he seemed as wooden as he did from a dis­tance. Then, one Fe­bru­ary day, he and his at­ten­dant press corps flew to Manch­ester for a rally in the Free Trade Hall. Af­ter the speech, we set off for Manch­ester Air­port. Some­one sug­gested that we stop for a beer. ‘Good idea’, boomed Ted, just as a large road­house loomed up. An aide was quickly be­side him: ‘But Prime Min­is­ter [as Heath still was], the plane is wait­ing.’ ‘Who’s pay­ing for it?’ ‘We are, Prime Min­is­ter.’ ‘Then it can wait, can’t it?’ And we piled hap­pily into the pub.

By luck the pub was the haunt of Heath’s sort of peo­ple: over­weight, red­dish-faced (a fair few sailors among them) men in blaz­ers and twill trousers. Soon a con­ge­nial to-and-fro was un­der way. Heath cer­tainly swal­lowed a pint or two. Be­fore long the aide was again at his shoul­der mut­ter­ing about the plane. Heath, thor­oughly en­joy­ing the com­pany, once again re­minded the young man that it was we (journos and the Tory party) who were pay­ing for the flight. Fi­nally, as all good things must, the ses­sion ended: the pi­lot would be out-of-time. With fond farewells to our hail-fel­low-well-met friends, we re­boarded the coach and so to Heathrow.

Heath, as we know, lost that Fe­bru­ary elec­tion and the fol­low-up one in Oc­to­ber, af­ter which he in­vited a dozen re­porters to lunch with him in a pri­vate room at the Savoy Ho­tel. Here again, de­spite his bruis­ing de­feats, we en­coun­tered a very re­laxed Heath, jok­ing, telling tales, spread­ing good cheer. If only, we agreed, he had been able to show a frac­tion of his hu­man side, he would have been far more ef­fec­tive.

I de­ter­mined to keep in touch, and af­ter his oust­ing by Thatcher, he and I took the train (with his de­tec­tive) to Lan­caster where he was due to ad­dress the univer­sity Con­ser­va­tives. He was by then, with Mrs T en­sconced in Down­ing Street if not yet in the na­tion’s heart, viewed as a poor loser and cur­mud­geon, so I set my­self the pri­vate game of try­ing to get him to ut­ter the words ‘Mar­garet Thatcher’. I failed: in ten hours he only ever re­ferred to her as ‘that woman’.

In some eyes at least his stature was grow­ing: he was a mem­ber of Willy Brandt’s com­mis­sion on north/south re­la­tions and had re­cently hit the head­lines with a strong at­tack on the apartheid regime then still firmly in con­trol of South Africa. He was never go­ing to em­u­late the ex-us pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter as an in­ter­na­tional states­man, but he was carv­ing out a post-pm role both here and in Europe.

A se­ri­ous man, he de­cried the way the press re­ported pol­i­tics. He re­ferred to West­min­ster jour­nal­ists as ‘dis­tort­ing scribes’ seek­ing scur­rilous gos­sip rather than re­port­ing the is­sues of the day. How­ever, our day be­came dom­i­nated, not by pol­icy or (that much) sala­cious gos­sip, but by cows on the line. Be­cause of them we ar­rived late, and be­cause of them our home­ward train was can­celled.

In the pres­ence of a sta­tion mas­ter who wore a bowler hat, Heath – who suf­fered from nar­colepsy – dozed on the plat­form while we waited. Good hu­mour was re­stored as soon as we were fi­nally un­der way and snugly in­stalled in the train bar.

There, over whiskies, he re­galed me with tales (sadly off the record) of his days in power and en­coun­ters with the great of those dis­tant times. Again the hu­man emerged from be­hind the mask. I had my im­pres­sion of a re­laxed and jolly Heath con­firmed later by An­thony Samp­son, who had a house near Sal­is­bury and told me of cheer­ful din­ner par­ties chez Heath in his cathe­dral close home. It was at this house that last year the po­lice held their shabby press con­fer­ence cast­ing a shadow over Heath’s rep­u­ta­tion.

I started my Ob­server ac­count of the day the cows de­layed the trains with the words: ‘Ted Heath, one feels, has not been a lucky man.’ I in­cluded a sug­ges­tion that the pas­sage of time might en­hance his rep­u­ta­tion, but sadly the pae­dophile smear cam­paign is prob­a­bly all (if any­thing) younger peo­ple will re­mem­ber about the ex-pm. Those older will re­call – as the Euro­pean ref­er­en­dum looms – that it was Heath who achieved the once-de­sired mem­ber­ship that we may now cast aside. If we do pull out, it will be the fi­nal blow to the mem­ory and rep­u­ta­tion of a not in­signif­i­cant Bri­tish states­man.

Ed­ward Heath in 1973

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.