Andy McSmith’s No Such Thing as Society: A History of Britain in the 1980s will probably become one of the definitive books on the 1980’s. It’s written in a concise style, is incisive yet generous to the subjects and conjures a vivid picture of the mood of the nation at the time.
I tweeted a previously unknown fact from the book that Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher did not talk for 22 years. Simply not true, said Iain Dale in a Twitter reply.
Andy McSmith was generous to email to say that the source of his quote was none other than the great Ted Heath himself. Andy was a guest at his house in Salisbury on the eve of his appearance on stage with Margaret Thatcher in 1998, and when asked, he said that he had last spoken to her in 1976.
So, we heard it from the old boy himself. But was he being puckish with the recollection of the facts to his house guests? Iain thinks he might have been. “They definitely talked in May 1979 and also when he attended the tory conf in either 1980 or 81. They also spoke at a downing street dinner for all living PMs held in the mid 1990s.”
Yet are Iain’s good manners playing tricks with his memory? They may be.
Andy’s response to Iain:
“You overestimate the warmth of the Heath-Thatcher relationship. They did not speak in May 1979. She refused to have him share any platform during the election. On the Saturday after polling, she sent him a written note by bike messenger to tell him that she was appointing Carrington Foreign Secretary, so no government job for him. She wrote to him again ten days later offering him the job of Ambassador to the US, which he refused, also in writing. No spoken words were exchanged, even by telephone.
“Heath did not go the party conference in 1979 or, as far I can ascertain in 1980, but he did turn up in 1981 to attack Thatcher, and was heckled. He joked about it, saying: “Don’t applaud, it may irritate your neighbour.” She said something vaguely nice about him from the platform, but I can’t find any evidence that they spoke.”
He adds “I don’t think you can assume that just because they were at the same dinner table some time in the 1990s, that Heath acknowledged her presence. You don’t mention that she turned up at the dinner in 1990 to celebrate his first 40 years in the Commons, but it would be assuming too much about Heath’s graciousness to assume that he spoke to her.”
And further adds “Also, I think the dinner to which you refer is the one held at Spencer House (not Downing Street) in July 1992 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne, at which all living PM and ex-PMs except Alec Douglas Home were present. The Palace took the precaution of seating Heath and Mrs T well away from one another. She was next to the Duke of Edinburgh, he was next to Princess Diana. I find no evidence that they spoke.”
Iain is certain that he saw them talk at the event and that it was actually broadcast on TV. “I absolutely know they spoke at the Downing Street event because I saw it on TV with my own eyes.” says Iain. He’s going to ask Mrs Thatcher’s people if they can get to the bottom of the matter.
I suspect this will come down to what constitutes “talking”. Small talk on the way into a reception can hardly be described as conversation. It’s perfectly possible for Heath to have asked Mrs T. about the weather whilst never talking to her about the folly of the 1981 Budget.
Can you help me establish the facts though? Do you know of a time whether Mrs Thatcher and Ted Heath had a conversation between 1976 and 1998?