Edward Heath

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Sir Edward Richard George Heath KG MBE (9 July, 191617 July, 2005) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for three and a half years at the beginning of the 1970s. Heath, who was a Conservative, broke with the tradition of upper-class and aristocratic leaders, as the son of a carpenter. Elected as an MP in 1950, he rose through the ministerial ranks during the 1950s and 1960s, winning the leadership of his party in 1965. Despite some personal unpopularity, he unexpectedly won the 1970 general election. In power his government successfully took the United Kingdom into the European Community but suffered economic difficulties and trade union unrest. Seeking to establish a mandate to take on striking miners, Heath called an early general election in 1974 and lost. He was deposed from the leadership by Margaret Thatcher in 1975 and a large part of his subsequent life seemed to be spent complaining about her policies.


  • The British government and the British people have been through a searching debate during the last few years on the subject of their relations with Europe. The result of this debate has been our present application. It was a decision arrived at, not on any narrow or short-term grounds, but as a result of a thorough assessment over a considerable period of the needs of our own country, of Europe and of the free world as a whole. We recognise it as a great decision, a turning point in our history, and we take it in all seriousness. In saying that we wish to join the EEC, we mean that we desire to become full, whole-hearted and active members of the European Community in its widest sense and to go forward with you in the building of a new Europe.
    • Edward Heath, "The Course of My Life" (Hodder and Stoughton, 1998), p. 214
    • Opening statement at the United Kingdom application to join the EEC in Paris, 10 October 1961.
  • The end of the negotiations is a blow to the cause of the wider European unity for which we have been striving. We are a part of Europe, by geography, history, culture, tradition and civilization ... There have been times in the history of Europe when it has been only too plain how European we are; and there have been many millions of people who have been grateful for it. I say to my colleagues: they should have no fear. We in Britain are not going to turn out backs on the mainland of Europe or the countries of the Community.
    • Edward Heath, "The Course of My Life" (Hodder and Stoughton, 1998), p. 235
    • Speech at European conference after France vetoed the British application to join the EEC, 28 January 1963.
  • Action, not words.
    • Title of 1966 Conservative election manifesto (publication GE 1).
  • Robin Day: How low does your personal popularity have to go before you consider yourself a liability to the party you lead?
    Edward Heath: Popularity isn't everything.
    • Interview in "Britain Today", BBC 1, 24 June 1969.
  • I have always had a hidden wish, a frustrated desire, to run a hotel.
    • Speech at the Hotel Exhibition, Olympia, 1969.
  • This would, at a stroke, reduce the rise in prices, increase production and reduce unemployment.
    • Part of the prepared text of a speech on proposals to reduce taxation, 1970. In fact the sentence was never delivered in the speech but was distributed to journalists and highlighted in press reports.
  • This was a secret meeting on a secret tour which nobody is supposed to know about. It means that there are men, and perhaps women, in this country walking around with eggs in their pockets, just on the off-chance of seeing the Prime Minister.
    • BBC News 'On this day'; Edward Heath, "The Course of My Life" (Hodder and Stoughton, 1998), p. 305
    • Remarks to the press after Harold Wilson was hit by eggs thrown by demonstrators on two successive days, 1 June 1970.
  • It was wildly exciting. It certainly wasn't the highest feeling I've ever had, but it was one of them. In those days, security was not as good as today. Just afterwards, some chap was able to get at me and stab the back of my neck with a cigarette. It wasn't very pleasant.
    • Describing the scene at Conservative central office after winning the 1970 general election.
  • We may be a small island, but we are not a small people.
    • Speech, June 1970.
  • We will have to embark on a change so radical, a revolution so quiet and yet so total, that it will go far beyond the programme for a parliament.
    • October 1970 speech to the Conservative Party conference.
  • It is the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism, but one should not suggest that the whole of British industry consists of practices of this kind.
    • House of Commons statement, May 1973, on the Lonrho affair.
  • Our problem at the moment is a problem of success.
    • Six weeks before the three-day week, November 1973.
  • As Prime Minister, I want to speak to you, simply and plainly, about the grave emergency now facing our country. In the House of Commons this afternoon I announced more severe restriction on the use of electricity. You may already have heard the details of these. We are asking you to to cut down to the absolute minimum the use of electricity for heating, and for other purposes in your homes. We are limiting the use of electricity by almost all factories, shops, and offices, to three days a week.
    • Broadcast to the nation, 13 December 1973.
  • We shall have a harder Christmas than we have known since the war.
    • ibid. Reported in Time magazine, 24 December 1973.
  • I was interested in being present for its first, and I trust only, performance.
    • After hearing a new choral work at Gloucester Cathedral, 1975.
  • In excluding me from the shadow cabinet, Margaret Thatcher has chosen what I believe to be the only wholly honest solution and one which I accept and welcome.
    • February 1975.
  • The historic role of the Conservative Party is to use the leverage of its political and diplomatic skills to create a fresh balance between the different elements within the state at those times when, for one reason or another, their imbalance threatens to disrupt the orderly development of society.
    • Newspaper article, February 1975.
  • They have made a grave mistake choosing that woman.
    • On Margaret Thatcher's election to the leadership of the Tory Party, 1975.
  • You mustn't expect prime ministers to enjoy themselves. If they do, they mustn't show it – the population would be horrified.
    • Interview, November, 1976.
  • Please don't applaud. It may irritate your neighbour.
    • Receiving a mixed reaction to his speech at the Conservative Party conference, Blackpool, October 1981.
  • We have had eight years of consistent and persistent attacks on those four years in government - and on me, personally, but that does not matter - by people who were collectively responsible for those four years.
    • Interviewed in 1982 about Margaret Thatcher's attitude towards him and his government.
  • He is not mad in the least. He's a very astute person, a clever person.
    • On Saddam Hussein, undated.
  • It is bad because it is a negation of democracy ... Worst of all is the imposition by parliamentary diktat of a change of responsible party in London government. There cannot be any justification for that. It immediately lays the Conservative Party open to the charge of the greatest gerrymandering in the last 150 years of British history.
  • It was the most enthralling episode in my life"
    • Interviewed in 1984 about taking Britain into Europe.
  • I don't think that modesty is the outstanding characteristic of contemporary politics, do you?"
    • Comment in the Commons, December, 1988.
  • I think Churchill would be appalled at the Thatcher government.
    • 1989.
  • Whatever the lady does is wrong. I do not know of a single right decision taken by her.
    • 1989.
  • There's a lot of people I've encouraged and helped to get into the House of Commons. Looking at them now, I'm not so sure it was a wise thing to do.
    • 1989.
  • Rejoice! Rejoice!
    • On hearing the news of Margaret Thatcher's resignation, November, 1990.
      • When asked later if it was true that he had issued such a joyful declaration on his rival's political demise, he said no. He hadn't said rejoice twice, he had said it three times.
  • Do you know what Margaret Thatcher did in her first Budget? Introduced VAT on yachts! It somewhat ruined my retirement.
    • 1992.
  • A tragedy for the party. He's got no ideas, no experience and no hope.
    • On William Hague's election to the leadership of the Conservative Party, 1997.
  • Peter Sissons: The single currency, a United States of Europe, was all that in your mind when you took Britain in?
    Edward Heath: Of course, yes.
    • On BBC's Question Time on 1 November, 1990.


  • You'll lose.
    • His full response supposedly made to Margaret Thatcher when she informed him she would be standing against him for the Conservative leadership in 1975. Attributed to him in his Daily Telegraph obituary (18 July 2005), although disputed by Heath's autobiography.


  • The incredible sulk.
    • Anonymous nickname referring to his complaints about Margaret Thatcher.

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