Michael Heseltine: Wikis


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The Right Honourable
 The Lord Heseltine

In office
20 July 1995 – 2 May 1997
Prime Minister John Major
Preceded by Barbara Castle
Succeeded by John Prescott

In office
20 July 1995 – 2 May 1997
Prime Minister John Major
Preceded by Geoffrey Howe
Succeeded by John Prescott

In office
11 April 1992 – 5 July 1995
Prime Minister John Major
Preceded by Peter Lilley
Succeeded by Ian Lang

In office
28 November 1990 – 11 April 1992
Prime Minister John Major
Preceded by Chris Patten
Succeeded by Michael Howard
In office
5 May 1979 – 6 January 1983
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Peter Shore
Succeeded by Tom King

In office
6 January 1983 – 7 January 1986
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by John Nott
Succeeded by George Younger

Member of Parliament
for Henley
In office
28 February 1974 – 7 June 2001
Preceded by John Hay
Succeeded by Boris Johnson

Member of Parliament
for Tavistock
In office
31 March 1966 – 28 February 1974
Preceded by Sir Henry Studholme
Succeeded by Constituency Abolished

Born 21 March 1933 (1933-03-21) (age 76)
Swansea, Wales, UK
Nationality British
Political party National Liberal Party (1959)
Spouse(s) Ann Heseltine
Alma mater Pembroke College, Oxford

Michael Ray Dibdin Heseltine, Baron Heseltine, CH, PC (born 21 March 1933) is a British businessman, Conservative politician and patron of the Tory Reform Group.

Heseltine held a number of cabinet level positions but is best known for his 1990 leadership challenge which led to the removal from power of the incumbent long-serving Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a dramatic Tory "palace coup". A few years later he became Deputy Prime Minister but never achieved the leadership of the Conservative Party.


Early life

Michael Heseltine was born in Swansea in Wales and is a distant descendant of Charles Dibdin (from whom one of his middle names was taken). His mother was Eileen Ray Pridmore whose family came from West Wales where they were farm labourers from Pembrey. His mother's great-grandfather came from the village of Gretton in Northamptonshire to work in Swansea docks (as a result, Heseltine was latterly made an honorary member of the Swansea Dockers Club). His mother's father, James Pridmore, founded the West Glamorgan Coal Company, which allowed Heseltine to be brought up in relative luxury at No. 1, Uplands Crescent (now No. 5). He enjoyed angling in Brynmill Park and won a junior competition.[1]

Heseltine was educated at Shrewsbury School.[citation needed] He campaigned briefly as a volunteer in the October 1951 General Election before going up to Pembroke College, Oxford, where, in frustration at his inability to be elected to the committee of the Oxford University Conservative Association, he founded the breakaway Blue Ribbon Club. Julian Critchley recounts a story from his student days of how he plotted his future on the back of an envelope, a future that would culminate as Prime Minister in the 1990s.[citation needed]A more detailed apocryphal version has him writing down: 'millionaire 25, cabinet member 35, party leader 45, prime minister 55'. He became a millionaire and was a member of the shadow cabinet from the age of 41 but did not manage to become Party Leader or Prime Minister.

Heseltine's biographers Michael Crick and Julian Critchley recount how, despite not being a natural speaker, he became a strong orator through much practice which included speaking in front of a mirror, listening to tape recordings of the speeches of Charles Hill and taking speaking lessons from a vicar's wife. In the 1970s and 1980s Heseltine's conference speech was often to be the highlight of the Conservative Party Conference despite his views being well to the left of the then leader Margaret Thatcher.

He was eventually elected to the committee of the Oxford Union after five terms at the University. The following year (1953-4), having challenged unsuccessfully for the Presidency the previous summer, he served in top place on the committee, then as Secretary, and then Treasurer. During this last post he reopened the Union cellars for business and persuaded the visiting Sir Bernard and Lady Docker to contribute to the considerable cost. After graduating with a second-class degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, described by his own tutor as "a great and undeserved triumph", he was permitted to stay on for an extra term to serve as President of the Oxford Union for Michaelmas term 1954 having been elected with the assistance of leading Oxford socialists Anthony Howard and Jeremy Isaacs.

After graduating he built up a property business in partnership with his Oxford friend Ian Josephs. With financial support from both of their families they started with a boarding house in Clanricarde Gardens and progressed to various other properties in the Bayswater area. He trained as an accountant but after failing his accountancy exams in 1958 could no longer avoid conscription into National Service.

Heseltine later admitted to admiring the military as his father, who died in 1957, had been a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Royal Engineers in the Second World War and active in the Territorial Army thereafter. Heseltine felt that his business career was too important to be disrupted although he and his father took the precaution of arranging interviews to increase his chances of attaining an officer's commission in case he had to serve [2]. Heseltine had been lucky not to be called up for the Korean War in the early 1950s or the Suez Crisis in 1956 but in the final years of National Service, already due for abolition by 1960, an effort was made to call up men who had so far managed to postpone service. Despite having almost reached the newly-reduced maximum call-up age of twenty-six, Heseltine was conscripted in January 1959, becoming a Second Lieutenant in the Welsh Guards. Heseltine left the Guards to contest the General Election that year, according to Ian Josephs this had been his plan from the start [3], and was exempted on business grounds from the remaining sixteen months of service. During the 1980s his habit of wearing a Guards regimental tie, sometimes incorrectly tied with a red stripe across the knot, was the subject of much acerbic comment from military figures and from older MPs with extensive war records. Crick estimated that he must have worn the tie on more days than he actually served in the Guards.[4]

Heseltine built a housing estate at Tenterden in Kent which failed to sell and was beset with repair problems until after his election to Parliament,[5], founded the magazine publishing company Haymarket in collaboration with another Oxford friend Clive Labovitch and early in the 1960s acquired the famous (but unprofitable) magazine Man About Town whose title he shortened to About Town then simply Town. In 1962 he also briefly published a well-received[citation needed] weekly newspaper,Topic, which folded but whose journalists later became the Sunday Times Insight Team. Between 1960 and 1964 he also worked as a part-time interviewer for ITV.

After rapid expansion Heseltine's businesses were badly hit by the Selwyn Lloyd credit squeeze of 1962 and, still not yet thirty years old, he would eventually owe £250,000 (over £3 million at 2007 prices). He claims to have been lent a badly-needed £60,000 by a bank manager who retired the same day. Later during the 1990s Heseltine joked about how he had avoided bankruptcy by such stratagems as only paying bills when threatened with legal action or sending out insufficiently completed cheques although it has never been suggested that he did not pay off all his debts eventually. It was during this period of stress that he took up gardening as a serious hobby.

In 1967 Heseltine secured Haymarket's financial future by selling a majority stake to the British Printing Corporation retaining a large shareholding himself. Under the management of Lindsay Masters the company grew publishing a series of mundane yet profitable management and advertising journals and making Michael Heseltine a personal fortune of hundreds of millions of pounds.

Member of Parliament

He contested the safe Labour seat of Gower in 1959 and in 1964 the marginal constituency of Coventry North which he lost to the Labour incumbent Maurice Edelman by 3,530 votes. Heseltine was eventually successful in 1966 becoming the Member of Parliament (MP) for the safe Conservative seat of Tavistock in Devon. After the abolition of the Tavistock constituency he represented Henley from February 1974.

Following the Conservative victory in the 1970 General Election Heseltine was promoted to the Government by the Prime Minister Edward Heath serving briefly as a junior minister at the Department of Transport before moving to the Department for the Environment where he was partly responsible for shepherding the Local Government Act 1972 through Parliament. In 1972 he moved to the Department of Industry which he subsequently shadowed - now as a member of the Shadow Cabinet - during the subsequent spell in opposition.

As Minister for Aerospace in 1973 Heseltine was responsible for persuading other governments to invest in Concorde and was accused of misleading the House of Commons when he stated that the government was still considering giving financial support to the Tracked Hovercraft when the Cabinet had already decided to withdraw funding. Although his chief critic Airey Neave disliked Heseltine as a brash 'arriviste' Neave's real target, in the view of Heseltine's PPS Cecil Parkinson, was the Prime Minister Edward Heath whom Neave detested and later helped to topple from party leader in 1975.

Heseltine was Shadow Industry Secretary throughout the Conservative's 1974-79 time in opposition gaining notoriety following a 1976 incident in the House of Commons during the debate on measures introduced by the Labour Government to nationalise the shipbuilding and aerospace industries. Accounts of exactly what happened vary but the most colourful image portrayed Heseltine seizing the mace and brandishing it towards Labour left-wingers who were celebrating their winning the vote by singing the Red Flag. Heseltine subsequently acquired the nickname Tarzan and was thereafter depicted as such, complete with loin-cloth, in the "If" series drawn by satirical political cartoonist Steve Bell. During the 1980s this macho image was reinforced by the satirical TV puppet show Spitting Image which portrayed him as a flak jacket-wearing psychopath in a reference to an occasion when, as Defence Secretary in Margaret Thatcher's government, he had been persuaded to don a flak jacket over his suit while inspecting troops in the rain.


Member of the Cabinet

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher appointed Heseltine to the cabinet as Secretary of State for the Environment in 1979 after her election victory that year. He was a key figure in the sale of council houses and was sent in as a troubleshooter to deal with the explosion of violence in Britain's inner cities in the aftermath of the Brixton and Toxteth riots during the early 1980s. As Environment Secretary in 1981 he opened Britain's first Enterprise Zone at Corby in Northamptonshire. Heseltine was responsible for developing the policies that led to five bi-annual National Garden Festivals starting in 1984. He established Development Corporations that were directly appointed by the minister and overrode local authority planning controls, a measure which proved controversial in Labour strongholds such as East London, Merseyside and North East England.

Heseltine then served as Secretary of State for Defence from January 1983 - his presentational skills being used to take on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the June 1983 General Election - until January 1986, when he resigned in a bitter dispute with Margaret Thatcher over the Westland Affair.

Backbenches and leadership contest

He returned to the backbenches where he became increasingly critical of Margaret Thatcher's performance, declining to support the passage of the Community Charge (the so-called "Poll Tax") through Parliament in 1988, although he only actually voted against the government when he supported an amendment proposed by his ally Michael Mates which would have adjusted the poll tax to take account of ability to pay. He abstained in the November 1989 Conservative Party leadership election, in which Sir Anthony Meyer challenged for the party leadership, and repeatedly insisted that he could "not foresee ... circumstances" in which he would challenge Thatcher for the leadership. Following Sir Geoffrey Howe's resignation speech in November 1990[6] Heseltine announced his candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative Party. During the subsequent leadership election he polled 152 votes (just over 40%) in the first round of voting by Conservative MPs, enough to prevent an outright Thatcher victory (the rules required an incumbent leader to obtain a majority of 15% - Thatcher had polled 204, just under 54%). Heseltine was thought by many pundits to be on course to beat her in the second ballot as many Conservative MPs were now rumoured to be ready to switch support from Thatcher and only 26 would have had to do so to give Heseltine the overall majority he needed in the second ballot.

With lukewarm support from her Cabinet, most of whom told her that she could not win, and faced with the bitter prospect of a Heseltine premiership Thatcher withdrew from the contest. During the weekend many Conservative MPs were faced with the anger of their local party members who overwhelmingly supported Thatcher but did not at that time have a vote in leadership elections and opinion polls showed that John Major would also boost Conservative support if he were to become leader (previously Heseltine's unique selling-point). In the second ballot, a week after the first, Heseltine's vote actually fell to 131 (just over 35%) as some MPs had voted for him in the first ballot as a protest or in the hope of ousting Thatcher but preferred to vote for other candidates now that they had a wider choice. John Major, with 185 votes, was only two votes short of an overall majority and Heseltine immediately and publicly conceded defeat announcing that he would vote for Major if the third ballot went ahead (it did not, as Douglas Hurd, who had finished a distant third, also conceded). Although for the rest of his career Heseltine's role in Thatcher's downfall earned him enmity from Thatcher's supporters in the Conservative Party this opprobrium was not universal. In a reference to the reluctance of the Cabinet to support Thatcher on the second ballot Edward Leigh said of Heseltine: "At least he stabbed her in the front".

Return to the Cabinet

Heseltine then returned to government as Secretary of State for the Environment, with particular responsibility for 'reviewing' the Community Charge, widely and correctly expected to lead to poll tax being abolished, allegedly declining an offer of the position of Home Secretary. After the 1992 general election he was appointed Secretary of State for Trade and Industry choosing to be known by the title, dormant since 1974, of President of the Board of Trade and promising to intervene "before breakfast, dinner and tea" to help British companies.

Heseltine's responsibilities also included Energy which was previously a separate ministry. When plans were made in 1992 for the privatisation of British Coal it fell to Heseltine to announce that 31 collieries were to close[7] including many of the mines in Nottinghamshire that had continued working during the 1984-5 strike. Although this policy was seen as a betrayal by the Nottinghamshire miners there was hardly any organised resistance to the programme. The following week a threatened rebellion by some Conservative MPs over the plans led to the number of closures being scaled back to the 10 least viable mines.[8] The government stated that since the pits were money losers they could only be sustained through unjustifiable government subsidies. Mine supporters pointed to the mines' high productivity rates and to the fact that their monetary losses were due to the large subsidies that other European nations were supplying their coal industries. Whilst Heseltine is generally seen as a One Nation Conservative, his reputation in the coalfields remains low.[citation needed] The band Chumbawamba released the critical song "Mr Heseltine meets the public" that portrayed him as an out-of-touch figure with; the same group had once dedicated a song to the village of Fitzwilliam, West Yorkshire which was reduced to a ghost town following the closure of local pits.

In June 1993, Heseltine suffered a heart attack whilst in Venice which led to concerns on his ability to remain in government after he was televised leaving hospital in a wheelchair. In 1994 Chris Morris jokingly implied on BBC Radio 1 that Heseltine had died, and persuaded MP Jerry Hayes to broadcast an on-air tribute. Morris was subsequently suspended. Heseltine, who after being seen as an 'arriviste' in his younger days, was now something of a grandee and elder statesman and reemerged as a serious political player in 1994 helped by his flirting with the idea of privatising the Post Office and by his testimony at the Arms to Iraq Inquiry at which it emerged that he had refused to sign the certificates attempting to withhold evidence. The cover of Private Eye announced "A Legend Lives" and one major newspaper ended an editorial by proclaiming that the "balance of probability" was that Heseltine would be Prime Minister before the end of the year - this being at a time when John Major's leadership had lost much credibility after the "Back to Basics" scandals. However there was no leadership election that autumn.

Deputy Prime Minister

In mid-1995 John Major found himself consistently opposed by a minority of Eurosceptic MPs in his party and challenged them to "put up or shut up" by resubmitting himself to a leadership election in which he was unsuccessfully opposed by John Redwood the Secretary of State for Wales. There was speculation that Heseltine's supporters would engineer Major's downfall in the hope that their man would take over but in the event they stayed loyal to Major and Heseltine, who showed his ballot paper to the returning officers to prove that he had voted for Major, was promoted to Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State. In this capacity he chaired a number of key Cabinet committees and was also an early key enthusiast for the Millennium Dome. In December 1996 Heseltine, angering eurosceptics, joined with Conservative Chancellor Kenneth Clarke in preventing any movement away from the government's official refusal to decide on whether or not to join the Single Currency.

After Labour won the 1997 election he suffered further heart trouble and declined to stand for the Conservative Party leadership again although there was still speculation that Clarke might have stood aside for him to stand as a compromise candidate. He became active in promoting the benefits for Britain of joining the single European Currency appearing on the same stage as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Robin Cook as part of an all-party campaign to promote Euro membership. He was also made a Companion of Honour by John Major in the 1997 resignation Honours List.


He resigned his Henley-on-Thames constituency at the 2001 election, being succeeded by Spectator editor Boris Johnson, but remained outspoken on British politics. He was given a life peerage as Baron Heseltine, of Thenford in the County of Northamptonshire.

In December 2002 Heseltine controversially called for Iain Duncan Smith to be replaced as leader of the Conservatives by the "dream-ticket" of Kenneth Clarke as leader and Michael Portillo as deputy. He suggested the party's MPs vote on the matter rather than party members as currently required by party rules. Without the replacement of Duncan Smith the party "has not a ghost of a chance of winning the next election" he said. Duncan Smith was removed the following year. In the 2005 party leadership election he backed the young moderniser David Cameron.

Following Cameron's election to the leadership he set up a wide-ranging policy review. Chairmen of the various policy groups included ex-Chancellor Kenneth Clarke and other former cabinet ministers John Redwood, John Gummer, Stephen Dorrell and Michael Forsyth as well as ex-leader Iain Duncan Smith. Heseltine was appointed to head the cities task force having been responsible for urban policy twice as Environment Secretary under Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

He was ranked 170th in the Sunday Times Rich List 2004 with an estimated wealth of £240 million. He is a keen gardener and arboriculturalist and his arboretum was featured in a one-off documentary on BBC Two in December 2005.[9]

External links




External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Henry Studholme
Member of Parliament for Tavistock
1966Feb 1974
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
John Hay
Member of Parliament for Henley
Feb 19742001
Succeeded by
Boris Johnson
Political offices
Preceded by
Albert Murray
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport
Post abolished
Preceded by
Peter Shore
Secretary of State for the Environment
1979 – 1983
Succeeded by
Tom King
Preceded by
John Nott
Secretary of State for Defence
1983 – 1986
Succeeded by
George Younger
Preceded by
Chris Patten
Secretary of State for the Environment
1990 – 1992
Succeeded by
Michael Howard
Preceded by
Peter Lilley
President of the Board of Trade
1992 – 1995
Succeeded by
Ian Lang
Title last held by
Sir Geoffrey Howe
Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
1995 – 1997
Succeeded by
John Prescott
Title last held by
Barbara Castle
First Secretary of State
1995 – 1997

Simple English

Michael Heseltine (born 21 March 1933) is a British politician. He is a member of the Conservative Party and is also a Baron. He is perhaps most famous for his leadership challenge in 1990 which caused Margaret Thatcher to resign. In 1976, after a vote to re-nationalise the aerospace and shipping industries, a group of Labour left-wingers began singing the Red Flag, which caused Heseltine to grab the mace and wave it at them. He was made Deputy Prime Minister by John Major in 1995.


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