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Sunday 8 August 2015


Ted Heath: A man who didn't fancy anyone

Just because Heath is a dead Tory, he's become fair game for hysterical paedophile hunters, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Ted Heath
Glaring at his nemesis: Ted Heath looks at the woman who brought him down as Tory leader,
Margaret Thatcher, a happening which led to a 30-year sulk

So the name of Ted Heath, British Prime Minister from 1970-1974, has been added to the list of dead Conservative politicians accused of being paedophiles. The British police, smarting from their appalling failure to protect thousands of children groomed and raped over years in more than two dozen cities and their equally shameful negligence and cowardice with the likes of Jimmy Savile, are in a state of mad, compensatory zealotry and are inviting the entire population to queue up to accuse Heath of abuse. Egged on by the Labour MP Tom Watson, who has achieved tabloid fame with so far unsubstantiated allegations of a parliamentary paedophile network, the hysterics of social media are in full cry and child molesters are being sought for under every bed.

One of those is what I believe was the virgin bed of Edward Heath, whom I couldn't stand but who was not a bad man. He was odd though: as the writer Robert Conquest wrote in his memoirs, "I have been at parties where Edward Heath has been present, and could have met him … but didn't see the need, preferring human beings."

At one such party, I was introduced to Heath when he was leader of the Conservative Party. He might as well have been carrying a placard saying 'I cannot converse socially so please don't even try to engage me'. I assumed this was because he was notoriously uncomfortable with women, but in fact Conquest was right. Heath connected extremely well with musical instruments and yachts, but he didn't do people, a species he didn't understand.

I remember my then husband, Patrick Cosgrave, who was working for the Conservative Party, coming home during an election campaign tearing his hair. Heath had been despatched to a tiny airport in a key marginal constituency. It was a blazing hot day, and when he emerged from the plane TV cameras were trained on a workman in overalls strategically placed by the local constituency office to offer him a pint of cooling beer. "No, thank you," said Heath. "I'm not thirsty."

This clever (though not brilliant), industrious and high-minded carpenter's son made it to Oxford on a county scholarship in 1935, won an organ scholarship at Balliol and was a rising but rebellious star in Conservative politics. His views were much influenced by his travels in Europe. Already anti-appeasement, in Spain he was confirmed in his opposition to Franco, seeing the civil war as a battle between legitimate government and militaristic fascism.

In Germany in 1937, learning the language badly, he was invited to a Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg and to a cocktail party where he met Nazi leaders and was horrified by the nationalistic zeal. "I was utterly convinced now", he wrote later, "that a conflict was inevitable, and that it was one for which we must be prepared immediately if we were to save Europe from the evil domination of National Socialism."

In a debate the following year he accused the government of "turning all four cheeks" to Adolf Hitler. A brave man, he was back in Germany in the summer of 1939 with a Jewish Balliol contemporary, Madron Seligman, who shared Heath's passion for European unity and was an open, sunny character who would introduce Heath to sailing and who, with his wife and children, offered the closest thing Heath had to a family life.

Heath had a creditable war, participated in the Normandy landings, ended up a Lieutenant-Colonel and, after a period as a civil servant, was elected a Conservative MP in 1950 at the age of 33. Like so many veterans, he was desperate that war should never happen again, and wanted a federal Europe.

"The national state is dead," he would say. "What has sovereignty to do with anything in the twentieth century?" His maiden speech was a heartfelt but doomed appeal for Britain to be at the heart of the development of the European Coal and Steel Community: his biggest triumph would be in 1973 when as Prime Minister he took the United Kingdom (alongside Denmark and Ireland) into the European Economic Community. Passion, for Ted Heath, was reserved for abstract ideals like European unity and social justice.

The following year, the only human being with whom he ever bonded properly died. Edith, his mother, adored her Teddy and was adored in return. He was devastated when in 1951 he learned she was dying.

By now an MP and fighting a general election, he would drive a long way every evening to be with her, playing on the piano in the room under her bedroom "the old sentimental songs which his father used to sing and which he knew his mother cherished: In a Monastery Garden, Love's Old Sweet Song, When You Come to the End of a Perfect Day."

Edith Heath had wanted to see her son settled, but after 15 years Kay Raven, the girl he had known since school days and who wanted to marry him, gave up waiting for the proposal Heath showed no signs of ever making.

He had no instinct for emotional intimacy and he disliked physical contact. It would have been politically advantageous to have a wife, but as Ziegler says, "by 1950 he was set in his bachelor ways and the thought of sexual intercourse or of procreation would have filled him with mild dismay".

Even people ill-at-ease with human beings can be driven by sexual urges, but Heath was pretty well asexual. His biographer, Philip Ziegler, described the problems he faced as Chief Whip, the party official who is supposed to deal with the scandalous behaviour of MPs: "Heath always found it hard to understand or condone the sexual misdemeanours of others".

He also found territorial passions incomprehensible a serious problem when it came to trying to sort out Ulster. As Ziegler points out, nothing made Heath so angry as a militant Ulster Unionist or a member of the IRA.: "That people were prepared to be bombed and shot in order to belong to a particular nation…made Heath sick."

He found the Troubles a frightful distraction from EEC negotiations, but he did his best. In March 1972, after Bloody Sunday and the subsequent mayhem, he introduced Direct Rule but authorised the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Willie Whitelaw, to meet the IRA. After a farcical meeting involving - among others - Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, which included a demand that the British leave Northern Ireland within three years, Whitelaw pressed ahead with the Sunningdale Agreement, a power-sharing deal that would be destroyed by the twin malign influences of the IRA and Paisley.

Heath liked Taoisigh Jack Lynch and Liam Cosgrave, both of whom he thought pillars of moderation compared to what he saw as the lunatics in Northern Ireland, but when it came to Ireland, what he was proudest of was being the stand-in conductor when the European Community Youth Orchestra played in Dublin.

He was three years into the 30-year sulk that followed his 1975 displacement as leader by Margaret Thatcher, but there were compensations. At the last moment Lorin Maazel was injured "and Heath stepped in, arriving on the podium to the astonishment of the audience. The programme began with the Irish national anthem.

"I suspected'" wrote Heath, that this was the first - and surely the last - occasion on which a former British prime minister has conducted this particular work.'" Heath-watchers will picture his heaving shoulders as he told that story.

I hate to be a party pooper, but - as a friend who has always hated Heath for his politics - pointed out, Heath had his whips purge any Tory MPs in 1972 if they were anti- Europe and had any embarrassing skeletons, (including homosexual sex with under 21-year-olds, who were then called "boys"). "Heath wasn't daft enough to sit in a glass house and throw stones like that."

Consider also that he was a top target of the IRA, who bombed his house in 1974 and so had security officers living with him for the rest of his life.

Like more people than we realise, Edward Heath just wasn't interested in sex. The British Establishment had a few bad people who abused children and got away with it. There weren't many. Just because you're a dead Conservative politician doesn't mean you're a paedophile. Ted Heath is innocent. Get over it.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards