‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian

Friday, 26 October 2012

Will sale of Ted Heath’s home reveal his secrets?

Former Conservative prime minister Edward Heath, who died in 2005, lived in a beautiful house near the cathedral in Salisbury.  We hear today that the house is going to have to be sold, as there is too little money coming in to keep it open to the public.

Ted Heath will probably be remembered as the prime minister who called the election in February 1974 over his dispute with the miners and campaigned with the question ‘Who governs?’ Heath actually won more votes (37.9%) than Harold Wilson’s Labour Party (37.2%), but the First Past the Post electoral system delivered four more seats for Labour than for the Conservatives.

A hung parliament resulted and could have opened the way for the first post-war coalition. Talks between Heath and Liberal leader, Jeremy Thorpe failed to reach agreement. It is interesting to imagine the nature of a coalition between these two leaders, who were polar opposites in personality. Heath was a former army officer, organised but inflexible and scrupulously secretive – his cabinet was probably the most leak-proof ever and his private life still remains a mystery. He never married and kept any relationships secret. Jeremy Thorpe, by contrast, was a showman, famous for leaping over fences and travelling by hovercraft on his election campaigns. His private life was plastered all over the press when he was charged with, but later acquitted of, conspiracy to murder.

The failure of the 1974 coalition talks led to Harold Wilson’s return to power as Labour prime minister, leading a minority government. Wilson called another election in October 1974, which gave him a slim parliamentary majority.

Will the sale of Heath’s home result in the discovery of a cache of papers shedding any more light on its secretive former occupant?

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