Book Review: Philip Ziegler, Edward Heath – The Authorised Biography, London: Harper Collins, 2010 (£25)

Dr Harshan Kumarasingham, the Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the University of Potsdam and a past contributor to the Conservative History Journal, gives his views on Edward Heath and Philip Ziegler’s biography.

Edward Heath did not emerge, but was elected as leader of the Conservative Party in 1965.  The new leader was young, experienced, and progressive with strong contacts with the Parliamentary Party after an effective tenure as Chief Whip.  Heath the Grammar school scholarship boy personified a professional image that was accurately and purposefully non-patrician.  This was the man the party hoped could beat Harold Wilson at his own game sharing a greater commonality and image with the electorate than any previous Conservative leader.  Heath could project a ‘modern’ image of someone who had risen through the ranks through ability not nobility.  However, expectations of a new age under a new style of leader were not unanimously idealistic.  Heath carried significant pressures as the new leader of a new era.  The Economist reported at the time of his ascendance as leader a sense of Conservative realism: ‘Mr Heath certainly carries radical hopes in his baggage.  But in electing him, the Tories have primarily shown their instinct for power.  They picked, by a narrow majority, the man they reckoned most likely to bullock their way back into power.  They will remain united behind him just as long as his pursuit of power looks promising.’  The Shadow Cabinet under Heath’s clear leadership had created a prepared and much publicised programme at Selsdon for when it returned to power, which seemed to deliver the progressive hopes envisioned by ‘Rab’ Butler and Lord Woolton when the Party recovered after the war.  This agenda of change promised a constructive programme, after the image of policy sterility of the last years of the Macmillan-Home Governments, to deal with Britain’s economic and domestic issues.  Against the odds Heath reclaimed the Treasury benches for the Conservatives in 1970 with a genuine gusto for reform and modernisation. As the biographer of the great and the good Philip Ziegler ably demonstrates he had the Tory party with him when he won because he at the time seemed the most ‘promising’ to deliver the objective of power.  Almost as soon as he achieved this, however, things began to go awry.

The rest of the review is here


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