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Alone at the top

Edward Heath took Britain into the Common Market and the Conservative Party has never been the same. A new book considers his legacy

Edward Heath: A Singular Life

by Michael McManus (Elliot & Thompson, £25)

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.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s August issue: Rachel Sylvester argues that the EU referendum has started a re-alignment of British politics while Roger Scruton and Jay Elwes say that it has thrown Britain into a bout of self-examination with the fundamental question of who we are as a nation at its centre. In addition, Peter Mandelson says without reform the EU could fall victim to a populist uprising. Also in this issue: Philip Ball explores quantum entanglement, George Magnus looks at the political situation in Brazil ahead of the Olympics and Adam Mars-Jones unpicks the work of Steven Spielberg. James Cusick looks at the impact of the Chilcot report and Kathy Lette explains what the world would be like if she was in charge.