Heath, Sir Edward Richard George

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Heath, Sir Edward Richard George

Sir Edward Richard George Heath, 1916–2005, British statesman. Educated at Oxford, he served in the Royal Artillery during World War II, rising to the rank of colonel. He was elected to Parliament as a Conservative in 1950, and held several posts in the party whip's office (1951–55) before becoming government chief whip and parliamentary secretary to the treasury (1955–59), minister of labour (1959–60), and lord privy seal with foreign office responsibilities (1960–63). In the last capacity he negotiated unsuccessfully for Britain's entry into the European Economic Community (Common Market), a policy to which he remained firmly committed. He was secretary of state for industry and trade and president of the Board of Trade (1963–64) and was elected leader of the Conservative party, then in opposition, in 1965. Heath became prime minister when the Conservatives won the 1970 general election, largely on the issue of the economy. His administration was marked by Britain's entry into the European Community (the successor to the Common Market and the predecessor of the European Union) in 1973, by legislation to restrict immigration from Commonwealth countries, and also by legislation, which proved ineffective, to regulate industrial relations. The intensification of strife in Northern Ireland led to the suspension of the Northern Irish Parliament in 1972. A new provincial assembly and a coalition executive were created (1973), but both proved short-lived. Soaring inflation led Heath to abandon his free-market platform and institute wage and price controls, but the controls worsened the government's relations with the trade unions. A series of major industrial disputes (1973–74) culminated in a confrontation (Nov., 1973–Feb., 1974). The miners' strike so reduced energy supplies that the country was forced to a three-day work week. Heath called an election (Feb., 1974), asking for a mandate for his tough policy toward the unions. He did not receive sufficient support to form a Conservative government and resigned as prime minister. After a second defeat in 1974, Heath lost (1975) the party leadership to Margaret Thatcher. In the 1980s he was a vocal and bitter critic of Thatcher's government; he retired from Parliament in 2001. Heath wrote many books, including Old World, New Horizons (1970), Music (1976), and British Approach to European Foreign Policy (1977). He was knighted in 1992.

See his autobiography (1998); biographies by M. I. Laing (1972) and A. Roth (1972).

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