“Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice” Obituary of Ted Heath
man of great integrity” and “ A political giant” were two of the many hyperbolic
tributes paid to Ted Heath as news of his death broke yesterday. Given that the
first comment came from Tony Blair, not universally known for his grasp of the
concept of integrity, and the latter from Margaret Thatcher, who ended Heath’s
career as leader of the Tory party, they should perhaps not be taken too
seriously. At least the “incredible sulk”, as Ted Heath came to be known, was
more honest with his “ rejoice, rejoice, rejoice”, remark issued when Margaret
Thatcher was forced to resign as prime minister.
giant” was, of course, one of the most unsuccessful Tory leaders of the past
century. As memories of his three years and eight months in the PM’s office
fade the myth has grown that he was a soft “one nation” Tory, a completely
different animal to his successor as leader, Margaret Thatcher. It is true he
was not as successful as her in his assault on the trade union movement, but it
was not for lack of trying. It was the Heath government which introduced the
Industrial Relations Act in an attempt to shackle the Trade Unions, jailed the
Pentonville dockers and attempted to smash the NUM. It is true that he was a
vocal critic of the Thatcher government’s policies on Europe, the poll tax and
the economy, and post-1997 he often appeared on BBC Question Time as a liberal
critic of New Labour. That perhaps says more about New Labour than Ted Heath.
There is though
another side to Ted Heath which will probably not get much prominence in the
days to come. His government authorised the introduction of internment in
Northern Ireland in a vain attempt to prop up the discredited Unionist regime.
The subsequent incarceration and ill-treatment of hundreds of innocent detainees
led directly to the bloodiest period in the history of the” Troubles”. As
Prime Minister in 1973 he was among the first to recognise Pinochet regime in
Chile, even as evidence emerged of the torture and murder of thousands. . This
was, of course, over thirty years ago but there is little to indicate that
Heath’s views had changed in recent years. Challenged on Newsnight, shortly
after the death of Deng Xiaoping in 1997, to condemn the Tiananmen Square
massacre, he replied “There
was a crisis in Tiananmen Square after a month in which the civil authority had
been defied and they took action about it."
He added "we can criticise
it in exactly the same way as people criticise Bloody Sunday in Northern
Ireland." Maybe we can understand Heath’s dilemma. It was Deng himself who
ordered the "action" - in Tiananmen Square, The prime minister responsible for
the “action” in Derry on 30 January 1972 was Ted Heath.