Edward Heath, the son of a builder, was born in Broadstairs in 1916 and studied at Balliol College, Oxford.
In 1938, as chairman of the Federation of University Conservative Associations and president of the Oxford Union, Heath fought against the appeasement policy of Neville Chamberlain. In 1940, he was called up to the British Army and after training at Storrington in Sussex, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in March 1941.
Heath was posted to the 107 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment based in Chester. Following the D-Day landings, his regiment arrived in France on 6th July, 1944. Over the next few months, he was involved in heavy fighting in Belgium, Netherlands and Germany. He also took part in Operation Veritable, the action to capture the land between the rivers of the Rhine and the Maas. Heath remained in Germany after the war and attended the Nuremberg Trials in 1946.
A member of the Conservative Party, Heath worked for the Conservative Central Office before being elected to the House of Commons in 1950. A committed European, he made his maiden speech on 26th June in favour of the Schuman Plan.
In 1955, Anthony Eden appointed Heath as his Chief Whip and he had the task of persuading Conservative MPs to support the government during the Suez Crisis. Later he served as Minister of Labour (1959-60) under Harold Macmillan. As Lord Privy Seal he led the British team negotiating entry into the Common Market. A passionate European, he was devastated when Charles De Gaulle vetoed Britain's entry in 1963. In the Alec Douglas-Home administration Heath was President of the Board of Trade.
The Labour Party won the 1964 General Election and the following year Heath was elected leader of the Conservative Party. He lost the 1966 General Election but defeated Harold Wilson in 1970.
Heath successfully led Britain into the European Economic Community (ECC).
Heath also came into conflict with the trade unions over his attempts to impose a prices and incomes policy. His attempts to legislate against unofficial strikes led to industrial disputes. In 1973 a miners' work-to-rule led to regular power cuts and the imposition of a three day week. Heath called a general election in 1974 on the issue of "who rules". He failed to get a majority and Harold Wilson and the Labour Party were returned to power.
In January 1975 Margaret Thatcher challenged Heath for the leadership of the Conservative Party. On 4th February Thatcher defeated Heath by 130 votes to 119. However, he remained in the House of Commons as a backbencher until 2001 when he agreed to join the House of Lords.