How Successful Was Edward Heath as Leader of the Conservative Party Between 1965 and 1974?

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How successful was Edward Heath as leader of the Conservative Party between 1965 and 1974? Edward Heath led the conservative party through a difficult and revolutionary period in British politics from the years 1965 to 1974, punctuated by the joining of the ECC in 1973, prolonged damaging strikes, high levels of inflation, and many monumental U-turns through the period of his office. The concept of change is most notably seen right from the offset of his leadership as he was the first conservative leader to be elected democratically, by ballot, marking a turning away from the old boy network of Tory prime ministers preceding him. He himself went against tradition, coming from very humble backgrounds, having been through the grammar school system and firmly middle class, this resulting in the changing of the image of the conservatives being a group privileged upper-class elite, a concept so loathed by voters in the ‘swinging sixties’. His leadership arguably comes as a direct response to the buoyant current leader of the Labour party and prime minister, Harold Wilson. It is the battle between these two strong characters which marked heath as the leader of the Conservatives, pushing for office in the sixties. The defeat at the 1964 election gave the party much food for thought, and Heath was chosen to be the man to battle against Wilson at the polls, considered to have the tough, bullish qualities of an Opposition leader. He became leader of the party in July 1965, as said, the first leader to have done so democratically. After defeat, the Party’s aim was to complete a review of policies, to keep up with Labour’s election-winning phrase, keeping up with the ‘white heat of the technological revolution.’ Heath from the offset can be seen to be a successful leader due to the revolutionary and opposing policies to Harold Wilson, as set out primarily in the 1965 manifesto of the party, stressing for tax reform, competition, trade union reform and more means testing in the welfare state, all designed to increase competition in order to achieve Heath’s ultimate aim of joining the ECC. Secondly, as Wilson faced crises in the failure of Trade Union reform and a stagnant economy, the Tories moved steadily to the right, many seeing this as a successful move by Heath. The move to the right got a massive publicity boost in Selsdon Park Hotel at a shadow cabinet meeting (January 1970) in the run-up to the election. In the public eye, the term ‘Selsdon Man’ (a phrase readily clutched by the media) meant a return to free enterprise -which directly contrasted Wilson’s policies of interventionism - the return to the values of hard work, trade union reform and a more efficient and independent industry. These ideas, although not particularly revolutionary in terms of policy for Tories, in election year provided a real incentive to frustrated voters, who looked at the struggling Wilson government whose interventionist policies were having little upswing effect on the economy. Many see the conference as an end of consensus politics, and the start of a marathon political battle between the two leaders. The fact that the Tories gained such publicity at Selsdon, and managed to convince the electorate that contrasting policies to the labour government such as the move to a more free market economy was necessary, showed Heath to be a successful leader in the outset of his campaign. Heath can be seen to be a successful leader due to the fact he won the 1970 election, much to Harold Wilson’s surprise. However, many would place the win not down to the leadership of Edward Heath, but the right wing nature of the radical Enoch Powell, who won the Tories 2.5 million votes from their last election (this despite the fact he was dismissed from the party after the ‘River of Blood speech’). The psephologist R.W. Johnson agrees with the view saying: “Of all those who had switched their vote from one party to another in the election, 50 0er cent were the working...
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