No one can deny that Sir Edward Heath was a considerable figure in British politics during the last century. One can, and probably should, deny that there is any appetite to read more about him. Philip Ziegler, a historian of repute who has dealt with King Edward VIII and Earl Mountbatten of Burma, seems at first glance to be insufficiently rough trade to get mixed up with a man who was not merely one of the worst prime ministers of modern times, but who also took to his grave in 2005 a reputation for being rude, selfish and immersed in a thirty-year sulk. How could one bear to be the official biographer of such a man? Ziegler, however, wrote a biography of Harold Wilson, so he has form for such things; and when he wrote his life of Mountbatten he had to place a sign on his writing-table reminding himself that, ultimately, the vain old intriguer was ‘a great man’. This track record of masochism is almost certainly the preparation one needs to deal on behalf of posterity with Ted Heath.
Ziegler’s is the authorised biography, as both the dust-wrapper and the title page inform us. It also displays an endorsement from Lord Armstrong, the former Cabinet Secretary who, while working his own way up Whitehall’s greasy pole, was Heath’s private secretary. ‘Brilliantly evokes the dramas of the 1970s,