Not for the first time, we're re-learning events that we'd almost forgotten about from the obituaries. Today's its those for Ted Heath, UK Prime Minister from 1970-74 and predecessor of Maggie as Tory leader. Indeed it's impossible to write a recent history of Britain without mention of Ted -- having taken the country into the EU and (against his will) making way for Margaret Thatcher, his career definitely lends itself to what might have beens.
A couple of comments. First (what do you expect from this blog?) the Irish angle. Ted was PM during the disastrous deterioration of events in Northern Ireland. The best that can be said is that his short 4 year term saw the gradual positive evolution of British policy from the optimism that accompanied the initial arrival of the troops as peacekeepers in 1969, to the alienation of the Catholic population culminating in Bloody Sunday, but then the emergence of the power-sharing Sunningdale agreement, not a whole lot different than what was finally accepted by most parties 25 years later -- but done in at the time by the weakness of the Labour government (under Harold Wilson) that followed Ted.
One snippet from his long Times of London obit:
... when Douglas Home unexpectedly threw in his hand as [Tory] leader at the end of July . The first Conservative leadership election then took place. Maudling was Heath’s main rival, and the favourite. But the result of the ballot was Heath 150, Maudling 133 and Enoch Powell 15.
We were surprised Maudling came so close to the leadership, which perhaps reflects the fact that for many Irish people, Maudling's image was determined for good by the time he got punched by Bernadette Devlin on the floor of the House of Commons. It's also interesting to see how marginalised Enoch Powell was even with the Tories, notwithstanding the revival of interest in his 1968 "rivers of blood" speech following the London bombings.
Finally, amongst the reflections, step forward Andrew Sullivan to put the (pink) boot in:
EDWARD HEATH, RIP: A pretty dreadful prime minister, in my view. A viscerally anti-American Tory who wanted to submerge Britain into a European super-state, and never managed to forgive Margaret Thatcher for succeeding where he so manifestly failed ... I must also say that it is very weird that the obits barely say anything about his private life. He never married. It was widely assumed he was gay. Why is this somehow a subject that we cannot even discuss after someone has died? I know of no one in British politics who didn't talk of it privately. And a gay prime minister - however terrible he was at the job - is an historic matter of fact or at least inquiry.
Please. Sometimes a bachelor is just a bachelor, or at least chooses to show just that side of his persona to the public. Ted asked for privacy, and never took actions to endanger it*. And it's not so long since Sullivan's last broadside on this issue, the alleged media reluctance to out Prince Albert of Monaco as gay, as he had to be as a bachelor, right? In fact, as we noted in connection with Ted Heath's successor as PM, Wilson, there's a much bigger media taboo about mental illness of politicians than sexual orientation.
*UPDATE 25 APRIL 2007: There's now a second hand claim that Heath was less discrete in his early political days, but Matthew Parris (who would likely have heard gossip) doubts that version of events.