Monday, July 18, 2005

Farewell, Grocer

I don't think there was ever much personal animus against Ted Heath by those of us who disagreed with him politically. But my memory may be clouded by time. I have to remind myself that although it seems recent to me, it's actually like someone in 1905 reminiscing about Disraeli. It may seem as though we didn't feel very strongly about him because his successor, Margaret Thatcher, provoked such intense hatred.

To a great extent, Heath was a figure of fun. He had the misfortune to be Prime Minister when the impressionist Mike Yarwood was at his peak and just about everyone in the country would do that strange shoulder-heaving laugh. The irony is that, although he was the first meritocratic Tory leader and followed the aristocratic Douglas-Home, he was as remote from most of the electorate as any Etonian toff. This was because of his bachelor status, his love of music and sailing, and the strangulated posh accent grafted on to his working class larynx.
I've mentioned here before that there were many jokes at the time about his presumed sexuality, but mostly only on the street and not in the media. It will be interesting to see if, following his death, a secret lover, male or female, is unearthed. Perhaps 'interesting' is the wrong word. It's really nobody's business. It's quite possible that Heath was one of that minority of people for whom sex was not very important. After all, if some people are 'sex addicts', there must be others whose sex drive is abnormally low.

It's worth noting that Heath was strongly opposed to the Iraq war. As was Dennis Healey from the other side of the political fence. What they have in common is that they fought in the last world war, and with some distinction in both cases. It's not universally true but it's frequently the case that such people, who have seen the horror of war at first hand, are more likely to regard going to war as a measure of last resort.
Curiously, it's the children of the Sixties like the long-haired, guitar-strumming, prancing, posing, public school, Christian Tony Blair who have no compunction about bombing civilian populations to oblivion. And he's strongly supported by others of his generation like the ex-Communist John Reid and the former student radical Jack Straw.

It's an odd thing that 'Grocer Heath', who had no connection with the grocery trade, was succeeded by the daughter of a grocer. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the nickname given to Heath by Private Eye came from the fact that his main political achievement before becoming Prime Minister was the abolition of Resale Price Maintenance. Prior to that, a loaf of bread cost the same wherever you bought it and today's supermarket price wars would have been impossible. You could argue that 'Buy One Get One Free' is as much his legacy as our entry into the European Community.
But since Heath was not a bad person and because he had such a famous loathing of Margaret Thatcher, I won't say BOGOF but rather Rest In Peace, Ted.


At 2:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, poor old Ted. Yet another tie to my youth cut away. I remember just before the 1st general election of 1974. I'd just become "politicised" - i.e. it had suddenly dawned on me just what these Marx and Lenin chaps were going on about. I was home for half term from college and had the current issue of Time Out, on the cover of which was an unflattering photo of the Grocer, above the caption "The Unacceptable Face of Capitalism". I left the magazine prominently on the coffee table, to show the parents just how switched on and left-wing their little boy had become. They ignored it, of course, and went on voting Labour just as they'd always done.

Ho, hum, the follies of youth.

- Tony -

At 2:54 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

It was Heath who coined the phrase 'Unacceptable Face of Capitalism', which was to his credit. Many Tories don't accept that it has an unacceptable face. I'm not sure that Blair does.

For me, the Heath years were an early lesson in the limits of legislation. During his wages freeze my company told me to just add £4 a week to my expenses claims.

At 9:47 PM, Blogger cello said...

I gave up judging people by their political affiliations some time ago. The cliche "a lot of my friends are Tories" has never been more true, whereas, once upon a shallower time, I used to eschew such relationships.

Mr C used to work alongside Ted when he(Ted) was guest conductor of the European Community Youth Orchestra and always found him modest, courteous and a thoroughly decent cove. Unfortunately, he really was a shit conductor. I believe he was a much better sailor though, so let's hope he's tacking across some playful waves somewhere now.

At 11:59 PM, Blogger Steve said...

William, you are spot on regarding "hippies" from the sixties and "shorthairs" from the forties approaching the concept of war from massively different points of view. Heath's exploits pre-war, and the insight he must've gained from his politicking in pre-war Europe must have affected him deeply.

I actually admired Ted for his stance on Europe - his tenacity, his conviction that it was the right thing to do. All triggered by his experiences in the various theatres of war circa 1939 - 1945.

Wasn't it Tiny Rowland who he accused of being the unacceptable face of capitalism? Heady days. I can't even see Saint Tone accusing anyone of that these days - the sanctimonious prick.

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

cello, it was always said that he was a poor conductor so interesting to have that confirmed from an inside source.

steve, yes it was Rowland's company Lonhro that Heath was referring to.
I think part of the retrospective appeal of Heath is that he was so 'unspun' a politician. I'm sure any spin doctor who had tried to manipulate his image would have got pretty short shrift.


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