Lord Michael Heseltine, former Deputy PM, spoke in UoN’s Monica Partridge building on Wednesday 3rd November as part of the Edward Heath Lecture Series, chaired by former Chancellor, Ken Clarke.
Heseltine used his speech to talk about an important part of Heath’s premiership: the European Union
The lecture series is inspired by the legacy of Edward Heath, Conservative PM from 1970 to 1974 and former MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup.
Heseltine used his speech to talk about an important part of Heath’s premiership: the European Union, Brexit and its consequences. Heath was the Prime Minister that brought the UK into the EU’s predecessor, the EEC, and remained a passionate Europhile throughout his life, playing a major role for Remain in the original 1975 Referendum on the issue.
Heseltine first discussed the context of Heath’s premiership, namely the problems with the trade unions that plagued respective Conservative and Labour governments that eventually paved the way for the neoliberal era of Thatcher’s government and beyond. Heseltine and Clarke both knew Heath, describing him as ‘difficult’, but in a rather complicated manner as he was a private man.
Heseltine described the challenges facing the British government of getting the UK into the EEC, before moving to more present times on Brexit. Heseltine spoke of his dislike towards Brexit and the troubles it has caused, citing driver shortages, workers going home and shelves being empty as some of the issues. Both he and Clarke called their decision to back a referendum on the Euro as their worst political mistake which sowed the seeds for the 2016 referendum.
Brexit was such a troubling issue for Heseltine that it is the reason he is no longer a Conservative Party member. After he advocated voting for the Liberal Democrats in the 2019 European Elections, he was suspended from the party. Clarke is still a member of the Conservatives, although he too had been suspended for blocking ‘No Deal’ and he was the only Conservative MP that did not vote to trigger Article 50.
Thatcher was the key architect of the Single Market
Both Heseltine and Clarke served under Thatcher, with Heseltine famously resigning from her government in 1986 after many heated confrontations; and thus, her role in the EU was discussed. Heseltine noted that Thatcher originally shared Heath’s view of the EEC and campaigned to Remain in the 1975 referendum, with far more explicit support than Harold Wilson, then leader of the Labour Party. Indeed, Thatcher was the key architect of the Single Market, a major part of the EU and she was a strong supporter of the EU’s economic ties. However, both noted that she became increasingly concerned over the loss of Britain’s sovereignty and the ever-growing political ties of the EU, with Clarke stating that she began to see everything as ‘some kind of plot’ for a Federal United Europe. Interestingly for academic debate, both Clarke and Heseltine believed that Thatcher would have voted Remain in 2016, had she been alive.
Heseltine stated in the audience questions that he opposed Thatcher’s description as him as one of the ‘wets’ as he supported many of Thatcher’s policies such as ‘right to buy’, but they diverged on Europe.
The lecture ended with hope for Heseltine and Clarke, as an audience poll showed a majority wanted to rejoin the EU (albeit an audience of mainly academics and students), something that both gentlemen thought would not happen in their lifetime. They told the audience to never give up the fight.
Featured image courtesy of Felix Hawes. No changes were made to this images.
In-article images courtesy of Felix Hawes. No changes were made to this images.
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