The Social Affairs Unit

Print Version • Website Home • Weblog Home

Use the buttons below to change the style and font size of our site.
Screen version     Print version:   
July 27, 2005

Sir Edward Heath, Raglafart - An Obituary of the Worst British Prime Minister of the Twentieth Century

Posted by Christie Davies

In the wake of Sir Edward Heath's funeral on 25th July, Prof. Christie Davies offers his own perspective on the man he regards as Britain's worst Prime Minister of the Twentieth century. The views expressed here are those of Professor Christie Davies, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director.

The tributes have poured in after the death of good Sir Edward, some effusive, some lukewarm but all of them respectful. Who is going to say the obvious, that when in office he inflicted more damage on his country than any other Prime Minister in modern times.

Obviously his worst crime was to negotiate Britain's membership of what is now called the European Union on appallingly bad terms. It is a measure of how feebly he pressed for Britain's interests that both Harold Wilson and Mrs Thatcher were able to gain concessions that he had been too negligent even to notice. He was so obsessed with being a European and making Britain European that he was willing to sign away literally anything. There can not be a fisherman in Britain who did not spit in the sea when Heath sailed past in his expensive yacht. I often wonder how he paid for it.

An earlier sign of his lack of any sense of loyalty to the integrity of our nation had been his immediate, thoughtless sacking of Enoch Power from the shadow cabinet in 1968 after Enoch had made his "Et Tiberim multo spumantem sanguine cerno" speech, the one that liberal whingers cannot refer to without using either "infamous" or "notorious" to describe it. Well, ten days before Heath died, the bombings of July 7th in London, meant that there really were rivers of blood, in exactly the way that Powell prophesied and for the reasons he gave, namely the rise of communalism in a society cursed by diversity.

If Heath had instead kept Powell in his team he would have won in 1970 by a landslide and had the power to crush the trade unions that so easily brought him down in 1974. But populism was beyond Heath.

He was not of the people but a gauche product of an uneasy upward social mobility that left him unable to defy the toffs. It came across in his odd gruff and clumsy speaking voice that was like the dhobi's dog, belonging neither to one place nor to the other. He would like to have brayed like the other bloody Balliol buffoons in the Oxford Union over which he presided in the 1930s; he was the organ scholar of bray. Powell spoke to us in the distinctive and attractive accents of the Midlands but Heath just sounded wrong.

Heath betrayed his own people by his unwillingness vigorously to stand up for them particularly over Europe. He destroyed our nation. It is appropriate that he should have died in the year that marks the two hundredth anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar, for he threw away everything we gained in that battle. Let us call him Raglafart which is Trafalgar spelled backwards. It has a suitably French feel about it, though Heath would not have known that. His French accent was almost as bad as his English.

Heath's lack of national spirit was compounded by his grotesque lack of understanding both of electoral politics and of elementary economics which were, I suppose, consistent with graduating in P.P.E.; he got a mediocre second which is almost as bad as getting a first in that cobbled together degree.

Heath's one genuine economic achievement was to improve competition by abolishing resale price maintenance but he did so in such a way as to lose the Conservatives the crucial 1964 election. The benefits of abolishing resale price maintenance take time to accrue and are spread thinly over consumers as a whole. The losses to those small businessmen affected are immediate and acute and these erstwhile reliable Tory voters voted elsewhere in 1964. Given the narrowness of the Labour victory, it might well have made a difference. If the change had been made after rather than before an election, the benefits would have been realised by all and those who had lost an economic protection would have adjusted to the change by the time the next election came round. It is doubtful whether this even crossed Heath's mind. He was too busy being right.

He lost again in 1974 through incompetence. His monetary and fiscal policies were irresponsible and led to inflation, particularly in house prices. If credit is suddenly made available to the would-be purchasers of a fixed stock of houses it means that house prices rise very rapidly. Later it will lead to more house building but by then many have been priced out of the market or seen their standard of living fall as their housing costs rise. He had made the same error as with resale price maintenance. Heath's time in office was one of relentless inflation, a process that redistributes resources arbitrarily and unjustly between individuals and groups. Inflation is theft.

Inflation also hands power to the trade unions. Employers know that they can raise prices to pay for wage increases and that there is enough money sloshing around to ward off any cash flow problems. Unions know that a wage increase will not result in some of their members becoming unemployed. If the worst comes to the worst the government will always intervene with subsidies. A happy regime of restrictive practices and over-manning can go on forever. Economic progress and economic growth occur not as Heath thought through pumping up existing industries to make them expand but dynamically by allowing some to collapse to make way for new ones. Forests grow through the death of trees. To retard this process by subsidy, inflation and immigration is the road to disaster.

In fairness, Heath did not choose this road, he merely inherited it, but in 1970 it seemed as if he had promised to strike off in a new direction. It had also seemed as if he would deal with the trade union problem but the new legal provisions he introduced were inadequate. Anyway you can not fight a war with law and jaw. You need to be prepared in material terms. In 1926 and again in 1984-5 the miners lost in their fight for eternal and increasing subsidies because the government had prepared itself well in advance for the conflict. Heath had not. The lights went out all over Britain. The three day week led to his losing the 1974 election and the victory of Britain's most dishonest Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. Heath put him there. Wilson completed the disaster that Heath had set in motion. However, the disaster of 1974-9 was a product of what the Labour party was as a party, the captive of the trade unions and of its entrenched statist ideology. Heath was not in the position of Wilson, that wriggling captive of the left. Heath chose his own fate.

Many Prime Ministers have made wildly wrong decisions in a particular area of policy – Asquith's decision to go to war in 1914 and then his inability to run it, Lloyd George's failure to intervene in Russia and kill Bolshevism as Churchill wanted, Ramsay MacDonald's failure to deal with economic crisis, Baldwin's lack of vigour in rearming and in standing up to Hitler over the Rhineland, Chamberlain's continuation of this policy, Churchill's trusting of Stalin at Yalta, Attlee's nationalisations, Eden's failure against Nasser, Macmillan's sacking of the prudent Thorneycroft and choosing inflation. But Heath alone failed at everything he did. He had the anti-Midas touch; everything he touched turned to shit.

Prof. Christie Davies is the author of The Strange Death of Moral Britain, New Brunswick NJ, Transaction, 2004. Prof. Davies campaigned on behalf of the Ugandan Asians when they were victims of African racism, the only issue on which Heath showed any sense.

Comments Notice
This comments facility is the property of the Social Affairs Unit.
We reserve the right to edit, amend or remove comments for legal reasons, policy reasons or any other reasons we judge fit.

By posting comments here you accept and acknowledge the Social Affairs Unit's absolute and unfettered right to edit your comments as set out above.

Whoever chooses what articles go up at the Social Affairs Unit - and in which order - obviously has a sense of humour. A critique of Heath follows on a - admitedly somewhat bizarre piece, this Prof. Rubinstein seems one weird dude - on whether there is life after death.

Posted by: David Jacobs at July 27, 2005 02:52 PM

I have often thought that Edward Heath was our twentieth-century version of Edward the Confessor, being a pro-European who left us a dire legacy (Bill the Conk in the case of the Confessor). Also, both men, if I read correctly in The Cunning of the Dove by Alfred Duggan, had the same tendencies towards piety and celibacy.

Regarding credit for house purchases, was it in the time of Edward Heath that lenders started basing their loans on two persons’ salary, thereby trapping the owner-occupier class into mortgage bondage, with the effect of leading them to put off having children and thereby effecting demographic warfare against the said class?

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at July 27, 2005 06:28 PM

Far from this sniping piece, Ted Heath was undoubtedly the greatest UK Prime Minister post-45 - for one achievement and one alone: getting Britain into Europe. Just imagine what a mess Britain would have been in if it were not for Europe. For one thing - whatever the Europhobes may wish and dream - Thatcher's reforms would never have been possible without the fiscal straight jacket of Europe. We might also have a still loony Labour Party if it were not for joining the EU. Do the Euroscpetics not realise that most of the policies which brought Britain to its knees would not have been possible if we had been a member of the EU?

Posted by: Henry at July 27, 2005 06:50 PM

Well, what does one expect from a living and breathing oxymoron like a rightwing sociologist?

If liberal whingers's epithets about Enoch Powell's speech are bad, then what about those of Peter Hitchens, who described it as 'squalid'.

Posted by: Ken Westmoreland at August 1, 2005 06:19 AM
Post a comment

Anti-spambot Turing code

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, this site is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

The Social Affairs Unit's weblog Privacy Statement