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Edward Richard George Heath was born at Broadstairs, Kent, in 1916 and was educated at Chatham House Grammar School, Ramsgate, and Balliol College, Oxford.
At university he was active in Conservative politics, and president of the Oxford Union. During World War II he served in the Royal Artillery.
Heath won the constituency of Bexley for the Conservatives in 1950. His maiden speech concerned European unity an issue, which was to figure prominently in his career.
Quickly appointed to the Whips Office, he held the post of Chief Whip from 1955-59, and as such was credited with keeping the parliamentary party together during the Suez Crisis.
In 1960, Heath was appointed Minister for Labour, and later Lord Privy Seal with responsibility for negotiating EC entry. De Gaulle’s veto of British membership was a bitter blow in 1963.
The Prime Minister, Alec Douglas-Home, subsequently made him President of the Board of Trade. His competence and success there helped Heath’s prospects for the leadership, which he won in 1965, aged 49. It was then unusual for a Conservative leader not to be upper class, and it was hoped that a middle-class leader would change the party’s image in the face of Harold Wilson‘s down-to-earth Labour party.
In Opposition Heath proposed an agenda of trade union reform, tax cuts and spending restraints. However, in government from 1970-74 the steep rises in the price of commodities and oil forced Heaths administration to rescue businesses and adopt price and incomes policies to combat inflation.
Heath’s term in office also featured industrial action and the deployment of troops in Northern Ireland.
One notable achievement was that Heath was finally able to lead Britain into EC membership, a long-held ambition.
In February 1974, the Conservatives lost the election, despite winning more votes than Labour overall. A second defeat in October seriously damaged Heath’s position. He was defeated in a leadership contest in 1975 by Margaret Thatcher.
Heath became increasingly critical of Thatcher’s policies and her opposition to the UK’s full participation in the EC. During John Major‘s administration, he continued his attacks on ”Eurosceptics” within the party.
In 1990, he undertook a mission to Iraq in an attempt to secure the release of British hostages. He returned in 1993 to negotiate the release of three more Britons held prisoner by Iraq.
He represented Old Bexley & Sidcup in the House of Commons and was Father of the House from 1992-2001.