Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Heath, Edward (1916–2005)

British Conservative Party leader (1965–1974) and prime minister (1970–1975). Born in Broadstairs, Kent, on 9 July 1916, Edward Heath was the son of a carpenter and local builder. Heath's intelligence and ambition earned him a spot at Balliol College, Oxford University, where he became president of the Oxford Union and was active in conservative politics. He was called to service duty in 1940, signed on with the army, and saw action in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany during World War II, rising to the rank of major by the end of the war.

Heath was first elected to Parliament as a Conservative in 1950, rising through the ranks to become chief Conservative whip in 1955. In 1959 he was appointed to head the Ministry of Labour. In 1960 he moved to the Foreign Office where, during 1961–1963, he led the negotiations to help secure British entry into the European Union (EU). Heath was elected to lead the Conservative Party in 1965 and won an unexpected victory in the general election of 1970, becoming prime minister.

As prime minister, one of Heath's priorities was to achieve his earlier goal of bringing Britain into the EU; Britain joined on 1 January 1973. Rather unusually, Heath did not place great importance on his nation's special relationship with the United States, although he did support the Americans in their Vietnam struggle and approved of President Richard M. Nixon's 1972 visit to China. However, Heath remained studiously neutral during the Arab-Israeli War of 1973.

Severe economic problems, greatly exacerbated by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo between 1973 and 1974, placed the British economy in dire straits, and Heath was less than successful in quelling the resultant dislocations. A government dispute with the coal miners' union in late 1973 led to further economic chaos, including rolling electrical blackouts and the imposition of a three-day workweek. These emergencies ultimately led to the Conservative defeat in a 1974 election. The following year, Heath was ousted from the party leadership by Margaret Thatcher. He remained in the House of Commons until 2001. Much to his chagrin, he was not offered ministerial office by Thatcher or her successors. Heath died in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, on 17 July 2005.

Paul Wingrove


Further Reading
Heath, Edward. The Course of My Life. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1998.
 

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