Parliament Street’s Henry Hill met up with Michael McManus (biographer of Edward Heath) to discuss Heath’s policies in light of the referendum result. Michael McManus served as Heath’s Private Secretary in the Nineties, but left after clashing with the former-PM over attitudes towards the EU.
Hill began the interview by asking McManus why Edward Heath had been so hesitant to begin writing his memoirs. McManus explained that Heath’s hesitancy rested on a psychological belief that, to write the memoirs, would signal the beginning of the end of his public life. Of course Heath continued to be a member of parliament until as late as 2001. McManus argued that Heath stayed in parliament so long purely because he loved the Commons, and it gave him a platform. He actual broke David Lloyd George’s record in terms of a PM’s time in commons, something McManus says that he was proud of. McManus also noted that the advent of Thatcher meant that parliament had become far closer to the presidential-model, he remarked that Blair was the most presidential candidate you could get.
Henry Hill here pressed McManus on a comment Heath had made about vocational politics being in decline. McManus replied that, in his view, the decline of the career politician was a very good thing. On this point, he added that much of the British public no longer understood the difference between parliament vs the executive. With the executive sitting in the Commons it is often hard to differentiate the two.
The conversation then turned to the issue of class. McManus stated that it was incredible, at the time, for a man of his background to break through to the position of leadership. As a ‘working class’ economic liberal it would have been very hard for him to break down the existing rules of parliament. Margaret Thatcher had even noted that, had it not been for Heath, it would have been impossible for her to secure the top job.
Continuing on the subject of Thatcher, McManus noted that Thatcher was not the Euro-sceptic that many believed her to be. She was pro-European until her Bruges speech in 1988. He was not convinced she would have been an ‘outer’ had she been alive for the 2016 referendum. The EU, however, was not the main cause of contention between them according to McManus. Whilst Thatcher was, famously, a great opposer of the trade unions, Heath was on far better terms with the trade unionists.
Finally, Henry Hill asked if Brexit is going to change the way history views Edward Heath. McManus stated that Heath had predicted a decrease in EU popularity owing to a lack of positive marketing in regards to the EU. Heath was a staunch advocate of the EU, however McManus did note that, at the time Heath was power, the EU was formed predominantly of countries with the same wealth and interests. The disparity of wealth in the countries now in the EU means that it was likely there would be a large amount of economic migration.