Michael Heseltine

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Heseltine
Lord Heseltine (6969083278).jpg
Heseltine in 2007
Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
20 July 1995 – 2 May 1997
Prime Minister John Major
Preceded by Geoffrey Howe (1990)[a]
Succeeded by John Prescott
First Secretary of State
In office
20 July 1995 – 2 May 1997
Prime Minister John Major
Preceded by Barbara Castle (1970)[b]
Succeeded by John Prescott (2001)[c]
President of the Board of Trade
and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
In office
11 April 1992 – 5 July 1995
Prime Minister John Major
Preceded by Peter Lilley
Succeeded by Ian Lang
Secretary of State for the Environment
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
Secretary of State for Defence
In office
6 January 1983 – 7 January 1986
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by John Nott
Succeeded by George Younger
Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment
In office
19 November 1976 – 4 May 1979
Leader Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Timothy Raison
Succeeded by Peter Shore
Shadow Secretary of State for Industry
In office
28 February 1974 – 19 November 1976
Leader Edward Heath
Margaret Thatcher
Succeeded by John Biffen
Minister of State for Aerospace and Shipping
In office
24 March 1972 – 28 February 1974
Prime Minister Edward Heath
Preceded by Frederick Corfield
Succeeded by Stanley Clinton Davis
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 Henry Studholme
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
Assumed office
12 July 2001
Life Peerage
Personal details
Born Michael Ray Dibdin Heseltine
(1933-03-21) 21 March 1933 (age 84)
Swansea, Wales, UK
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Anne Heseltine
Alma mater Pembroke College, Oxford
Military service
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1959
Rank Second Lieutenant
Unit Welsh Guards
a. ^ Office vacant from 1 November 1990 to 5 July 1995. b. ^ Office vacant from 19 June 1970 to 5 July 1995. c. ^ Office vacant from 2 May 1997 to 8 June 2001.

Michael Ray Dibdin Heseltine, Baron Heseltine, CH, PC (born 21 March 1933) is a British Conservative politician and businessman. After initially making money as a property developer, he was one of the founders of the publishing house Haymarket. He was a Member of Parliament from 1966 to 2001, and was a prominent figure in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major including serving as Deputy Prime Minister under the latter.

Heseltine entered the Cabinet in 1979 as Secretary of State for the Environment, where he promoted the "Right to Buy" campaign that allowed two million families to purchase their council houses. Heseltine was considered an adept media performer and a charismatic minister, although he was frequently at odds with Thatcher on economic issues and was one of the most visible "wets", whose "One Nation" views were epitomised by his support for the regeneration of the City of Liverpool, in the early 1980s when it was facing economic collapse; this later earned him the award of Freeman of the City of Liverpool in 2012. He was Secretary of State for Defence from 1983 to 1986. In the latter role he was instrumental in the political battle against the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He resigned from the Cabinet in 1986 over the Westland Affair and returned to the back benches.

Following Geoffrey Howe's resignation speech in November 1990, Heseltine challenged Thatcher for the leadership of the Conservative Party, polling well enough to deny her an outright victory on the first ballot. He then lost to John Major on the second ballot, but returned to the Cabinet when Major became Prime Minister.

As a key ally of Major, Heseltine rose to become President of the Board of Trade and, from 1995, Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State. He declined to seek the leadership of the party following Major's 1997 election defeat, but remained a vocal advocate for modernisation in the party.

Early life

Michael Heseltine was born in Swansea in Wales, the son of Rupert Heseltine, a factory owner and Eileen Ray (Pridmore). He is a distant descendant of the composer and songwriter Charles Dibdin (from whom one of his middle names was taken). His father's ancestors were farm labourers in Pembrey. His mother originated in West Wales and his maternal great-grandfather worked at the Swansea docks[1] (as a result, Heseltine was later made an honorary member of the Swansea Dockers Club). His maternal grandfather, James Pridmore, founded West Glamorgan Collieries Ltd, a short-lived company that briefly worked two small mines on the outskirts of Swansea (1919–21).

Heseltine was brought up in relative luxury at No. 1, Uplands Crescent (now No. 5). Heseltine told Tatler interviewer Charlotte Edwardes in 2016: "At prep school, I started a birdwatching club called the Tit Club. Every member was named after a member of the tit family: the Marsh Tit, the Blue Tit. I was the Great Tit". He once feared the story might reach the press: "I just know if that had got out when I was in active politics, I would never have recovered".[2] He enjoyed angling in Brynmill Park and won a junior competition.[3] He was educated at Shrewsbury School.[4]


Heseltine 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 recounted 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. A more detailed apocryphal version has him writing down: 'millionaire 25, cabinet member 35, party leader 45, prime minister 55'.[5] 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 having an innate gift for public speaking, he became a strong orator through much effort, which included practising his speeches in front of a mirror, listening to tape recordings of speeches by television administrator Charles Hill, and taking voice-coaching 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 Library Committee of the Oxford Union for Hilary (Spring) Term 1953.[6] The Oxford Union minutes record after a debate on 12 February 1953 that “Mr Heseltine should guard against artificial mannerisms of voice and calculated flourishes of self-conscious histrionics; this is only worth saying because he has the makings of a first class speaker”.[7]

He was then elected to the Standing Committee of the Oxford Union for Trinity (summer) Term 1953.[8] On 30 April 1953 he opposed the setting up of the Western European Union (a European defence treaty), not least because it might antagonise the USSR following the supposed “recent change of Soviet attitudes” [i.e. after Stalin’s death]. On 4 June 1953 he called for the development of the British Commonwealth as a third major power in the world (after the USA and USSR).[9] At the end of that summer term he stood unsuccessfully for the Presidency but was instead elected to the top place on the committee.[8] In his third year (1953–54), he served in top place on the committee, then as Secretary, and then Treasurer.[10][11][8] As Treasurer he attempted to solve the Union's financial problems not by cost-cutting but by an ultimately successful “Brighter Union” policy of bringing in more students for food and drink, and by converting the Union cellars into a venue for events. The Union's Senior Member (the university don which every society was required to have) resigned in protest at what he saw as Heseltine's profligacy, and was replaced by the young Maurice Shock.[12]

At the end of the Trinity (summer) Term 1954 he was elected President of the Oxford Union for Michaelmas term 1954, largely on the strength of his business management, and with the assistance of Union contemporaries Jeremy Isaacs and Anthony Howard, then chairman and chairman-elect of the Oxford University Labour Club; Heseltine had even, for a brief period that term, joined a protest group against the Conservative government's testing of an H-Bomb.[13] He had done little study at University, and passed his finals with the help of last-minute coaching from friends. After graduating with a second-class degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, described by his tutor Neville Ward-Perkins as "a great and undeserved triumph", he was permitted to stay on for an extra term to serve as Union President.[10][11][8]

The Union cellars were opened on 30 October 1954 and Heseltine persuaded the visiting Sir Bernard and Lady Docker to contribute to the considerable cost.[14] Debates over which he presided included censorship of the Arts (no vote taken), welcoming the decline of British Imperialism (defeated 281–381) and calling for a “change in the principles and practice of British Trade Unions” (carried 358-200).[15] Guest speakers that term included Palme Dutt, Lady Violet Bonham Carter, his old headmaster John Wolfenden and Jacob Bronowski, whilst Aneurin Bevan addressed a packed meeting of the University Labour Club, chaired by Anthony Howard, in the Union Chamber.[16]

Business career

Early business career

In January 1955 Heseltine began articles at Peat Marwick & Mitchell.[17] Whilst training as an accountant, he also built up a property business in the London property boom of the late 1950s. He and his Oxford roommate Ian Josephs had each inherited around £1,000 (around £23,000 at 2016 prices).[18][19] They formed a property company called “Michian” (after their first names) and with the aid of a mortgage bought a 13-year lease on the so-called Thurston Court Hotel at 39, Clanricarde Gardens (near Notting Hill) for £3,750. They evicted the existing tenants so that Josephs’ father could renovate the property and let out the rooms for a total rent of around £30 per week. A year later, they were able to sell the property at a profit, doubling their capital to £4,000.[18]

With the aid of a £23,000 mortgage, Heseltine and Josephs now bought a group of five adjacent houses for £27,000 in Inverness Terrace, Bayswater. They arranged for some medical students to decorate and remodel the property into a 45-bedroom boarding house, which they called the "New Court Hotel". Heseltine would sometimes cook breakfast himself, although he rejects tales that he would get up early to mix margarine in with the butter. Many of tenants were American servicemen who, he later recorded, were for the most part respectful but sometimes rowdy at weekends.[20]

Edward Heath, then a government whip whom he had met at the Oxford Union, was his referee when he applied for the Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidates’ List in October 1956.[21] Heseltine bought his first Jaguar, second hand and cheap because of the rise in the price of petrol owing to the Suez Crisis, for £1,750 in December 1956, upgrading to newer and more expensive models in future years.[22]

New Court Hotel was sold in 1957.[23] At this point Heseltine went into business with another Oxford friend Clive Labovitch, who brought out Opportunities for Graduates that year. Heseltine arranged for this to be distributed for free, expanded from 40 pages to a 169-page hardback book, to final year students at all British universities, paid for by advertising.[24] Heseltine ended his partnership with Josephs and with the aid of a £4,500 investment by Heseltine’s mother (following the death of his father in 1957) he and Labovitch were able to buy a group of houses at 29–31 Tregunter Road (south of Earl's Court), adding two more in neighbouring Cathcart Road.[25]

National service

Heseltine had transferred his articles to a partner at a smaller firm of accountants off Haymarket, feeling that this would allow him more chance of hands-on involvement in the affairs of the firms whose books he examined, rather than being a cog in a bigger machine. It took him three attempts and special coaching to pass his intermediate exams, and he had little immediate prospect of passing his accountancy finals. He also estimated that he was earning more from his property business than the partner to whom he was articled.[23] With the expiry of his articles in January 1958 he could no longer avoid conscription into National Service.[26]

Heseltine later wrote that he admired the military as his father had been a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Royal Engineers in the Second World War and active in the Territorial Army thereafter, but that he had felt that his business career was too important to be disrupted. He and his father had taken the precaution of arranging interviews to increase his chances of attaining an officer's commission in case he had to serve.[26] He 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 maximum call-up age, recently reduced from thirty to twenty-six, Heseltine was conscripted into the Welsh Guards in January 1959.[27]

Heseltine spent nine weeks in the ranks as a Guardsman[28] before being sent for three months of officer training at Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot, alongside men from other regiments. He was a capable cadet, reaching the rank of Junior Under-Officer and graduating with an A-Grade, but he was not awarded the Sword of Honour or promoted to the rank of Senior Under-Officer, as it was felt his age had given him an unfair advantage over younger cadets.[29] Throughout his training he had been troubled by an old ankle sprain, but he declined the offer of a medical discharge.[30] He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 11 June 1959.[29]

Heseltine was granted leave to contest the General Election in October that year; according to Ian Josephs this had been his plan from the start.[27] Afterwards he applied on business grounds for exemption from return to the Army, in part because of difficulties caused by an employee's embezzlement,[25] and partly including the need to sort out his father's affairs, and was exempted from his remaining sixteen months of service.[31] During the 1980s his habit of wearing a Guards regimental tie, sometimes incorrectly knotted with a red stripe on the neck, was the subject of much acerbic comment from military figures and from older MPs with distinguished war records. Crick estimated that he must have worn the tie on more days than he actually served in the Guards.[32]

Business career: expansion and near disaster

By now the property boom was in full swing. Heseltine and Labovitch established first one then a group of companies under the name “Bastion Properties”.[33] Heseltine later recorded that he and Labovitch bought at least three properties in W1 and W2 which they were able to sell at a profit before they had completed the original purchases. They also built eight small houses in Queensborough Mews, Bayswater.[24] They bought a 58-year lease on a block of seven properties at Stafford Terrace, off Kensington High Street, which they converted into flats[34] and built houses for Stepney Borough Council.[35] Bastion also planned to build an estate of up to 126 houses[36] at Tenterden, Kent, which failed to sell. In order to attract other buyers to the empty estate Heseltine had to accept an offer of £4,000 for the first house, which had been valued at £7,250.[37] The estate was beset with repair problems until after Heseltine's election to Parliament.[38]

Heseltine and Labovitch also founded the magazine publishing company Cornmarket, and brought out Directory of Opportunities for School Leavers and Directory of Opportunities for Qualified Men, which earned a steady income from advertising. Canadian, French and German versions were also launched, although these were less profitable.[24] In late 1959, using £10,000 of a £30,000 profit on selling a freehold site off Regents Park, they acquired the famous (but unprofitable) magazine Man About Town whose title was shortened to About Town then simply Town.[39] In 1962, they paid £10,000 for Topic, a weekly newspaper which had been launched in 1961 by a group of entrepreneurs including the Prime Minister's son Maurice Macmillan, and which was now owned by Norman Mascall (a pyramid scheme fraudster of the era). By then the economic climate was too difficult, and like many publishers they found that there is limited appetite for weekly papers in the UK. Topic ceased publication at the end of 1962, but its journalists later became The Sunday Times Insight Team.[40]

Bastion Properties was in trouble because of building costs and an unsatisfactory building manager.[35] After rapid expansion, Heseltine's businesses were badly hit by the Selwyn Lloyd financial squeeze of 1961[41] and, still not yet thirty years old, he would eventually owe £250,000 (around £4.5 million at 2016 prices).[19] He claims to have been lent a badly needed £85,000 in December 1962 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 paying bills only when threatened with legal action, although he eventually settled all his debts. It was during this stressful period of his life that he took up gardening as a serious hobby.[42]

Between 1960 and 1964, Heseltine also worked as a part-time interviewer for ITV, very likely, in Crick's view, to maintain his public profile as an aspiring politician.[43]

Business career: Haymarket grows

With Cornmarket short of money, Heseltine accepted an investment from Keliher, Hudson & Kearns, printers of Town. Before the deal was complete the printers were bought by the printer Hazell, Watson & Viney, so in 1964 the newly merged company, of which the new investors controlled 40%, was given the portmanteau name Haymarket.[44] Heseltine parted company with Labovitch at the end of 1965. Labovitch took his Directories series but had to sell them back to Haymarket when his business failed in the early 1970s. Labovitch declined an offer to rejoin as a consultant.[45]

In 1967, Heseltine secured Haymarket's financial future by a deal with British Printing Corporation. In return for managing several of BPC’s magazines, Haymarket sold a 60% stake to BPC, whilst Heseltine and other directors retained smaller shareholdings.[46]

Town magazine ceased publication at the end of 1967 having never made a profit, but Heseltine writes that its quality was instrumental in establishing Haymarket’s reputation as a publishing house.[39] Around that time, Management Today became Haymarket's first big success.[47] Lindsay Masters, who had joined the Heseltine-Labovitch publishing business as an advertising manager in spring 1958, and Simon Tindall, who had joined in his early twenties as an advertising salesman while Heseltine had been doing his National Service, played an increasingly large role in managing the company, especially after Heseltine's appointment to ministerial office in 1970.[48]

Haymarket was due to be floated as a public company in the autumn of 1973, although this was cancelled because of the oil price hike, avoiding the stock market crash which followed. The company remains privately owned to this day.[49] In 1976 the BPC syndicate was bought out with money borrowed from them.[50] Under the management of Masters and Tindall, Haymarket continued to grow, publishing a series of profitable motoring, management and advertising journals. By 1976 it was making annual profits of round £1.75m.[50]

After 1997: return to business

Heseltine acted as a consultant to Haymarket during his periods out of government office (1974-9 and 1986–90).[51]

By 1997, when his career as a Cabinet minister ended, Haymarket was making an annual profit of over £10m and employing around 1,000 people. Heseltine resumed management of the company after Masters’ retirement in 1999.[52] Since 1999 Haymarket has seen reduced profitability in the UK, but has expanded further into foreign markets (e.g. India). It has also laboured under heavy borrowings of over £100 million to buy back Masters' and Tindall's large minority shareholdings, which have been reduced to some extent by the sale of properties. Heseltine has now retired from day-to-day management, handing over to his son Rupert.[53]

Heseltine’s ownership of Haymarket has made him a large personal fortune. As of 2013 he was ranked 311th in The Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated wealth, including shareholdings held by members of his immediate family, of £264 million.[54]

Parliamentary and ministerial career

Member of Parliament

Heseltine contested the safe Labour seat of Gower at the October 1959 General Election.[55] He had been the only applicant for the Conservative (technically, Conservative and National Liberal)[56] candidacy. He would at times attend Labour meetings and attempt to heckle the speakers.[22]

In the 1964 general election he contested the marginal constituency of Coventry North, which to his disappointment he lost to the incumbent Labour member, Maurice Edelman by 3,530 votes.[57]

In March 1965 Heseltine applied to be candidate for the safe Conservative seat of Tavistock in Devon, where the incumbent MP was retiring, and reached the final short list of three. He was picked in part as a young, dynamic candidate who could face the challenge of the resurgent Liberal Party in the West Country, where Jeremy Thorpe, Peter Bessell and Mark Bonham-Carter had recently won seats. At the general meeting he faced criticism for the bikini-clad girls on the cover of Town magazine, which were considered risqué at the time, but was selected after a stirring speech to the assembled 500 members of the local Conservative Association. He was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Tavistock at the March 1966 general election.[58]

After the abolition of the Tavistock constituency he represented Henley from February 1974 until his retirement from the House of Commons in 2001.[59]

Early front bench career

Following the Conservative victory in the 1970 General Election Heseltine was promoted to the Government by 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.[60]

In 1972, Heseltine was a strong supporter of Heath, who was suffering from an open rebellion against his leadership by Enoch Powell and Ronald Bell. Heath attempted to persuade Heseltine to challenge Bell – both men's seats were to be abolished in the forthcoming round of boundary changes – for the Conservative nomination for the new seat of Beaconsfield. Bell's campaign within the local Conservative ranks was masterminded by Hugh Simmonds, chairman of the Young Conservatives, and he narrowly won.[61] Heseltine wrote that he was “tempted” to enter the lists at Beaconsfield, but did not actually do so.[62]

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 Heath, whom Neave detested and later helped to topple as party leader in 1975.[60]

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. In the days before television's broadcasting of proceedings in Parliament, accounts of exactly what happened vary but the most vivid image portrayed Heseltine seizing the Mace and brandishing it towards Labour left-wingers who were celebrating having won the vote and singing The Red Flag. The Speaker suspended the sitting.[63]

Member of the Cabinet


Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher appointed Heseltine to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for the Environment in 1979 following her election victory in May of that year.

He was a key figure in the sale of council houses under the Right to Buy policy the Conservatives had promised in the election campaign. In the Housing Act 1980 and subsequent acts, he had charge of the legislation. Some 6 million people were eligible; about one in three actually purchased their home. Heseltine noted that, "no single piece of legislation has enabled the transfer of so much capital wealth from the state to the people." He said that the 'right to buy' policy had two main objectives: to give people what they had wanted, and to reverse the trend of ever-increasing dominance of the State over the life of the individual. He said: "There is in this country a deeply ingrained desire for home ownership. The Government believe that this spirit should be fostered. It reflects the wishes of the people, ensures the wide spread of wealth through society, encourages a personal desire to improve and modernize one's own home, enables parents to accrue wealth for their children and stimulates the attitudes of independence and self-reliance that are the bedrock of a free society."[64]


Heseltine became the troubleshooter to deal with the explosion of violence in Britain's inner cities in the aftermath of the Brixton and Toxteth riots of 1981. As Environment Secretary 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 which began in 1984. He established Development Corporations that were directly appointed by the minister and overrode local authority planning controls, a controversial measure in Labour strongholds such as East London, Merseyside and North East England.[65]


Heseltine then served as Secretary of State for Defence from January 1983 in which he used his presentational skills being used to take on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the June 1983 General Election. After the incident with the Commons' Mace, Heseltine acquired the nickname Tarzan and was caricatured as such, complete with loin-cloth, in the "If" series drawn by satirical political cartoonist, Steve Bell. Heseltine has claimed never to have been bothered what people called him, although the nickname amused his wife: "It was quite fun to be married to Johnny Weissmuller".[2] During the 1980s this macho image was reinforced by the satirical ITV puppet show Spitting Image, which portrayed him as a camouflage-clad warrior reminiscent of the 1960s white British mercenary of the Congo, Col. "Mad Mike" Mike Hoare. This was after an occasion when, as Defence Secretary in Margaret Thatcher's government, he had been persuaded to wear a camouflage anorak over his suit while inspecting troops in the rain on 6 February 1985 when he deployed 1,500 police and soldiers to fence off RAF Molesworth to prevent anti-nuclear protesters from entering the cruise missile base.

In January 1986, he resigned in a bitter Cabinet dispute with Thatcher over the Westland affair. He apparently gathered up his papers and rose from his seat proclaiming, "I can no longer be a member of this Cabinet" and then marched out of the Cabinet Office. Within hours he issued a statement denouncing Thatcher's managerial style and suggesting she was a liar who lacked integrity.[66]

Heseltine later said that he regretted resigning from the Cabinet in 1986, as he subsequently often wondered if he and Nigel Lawson might have been able to persuade Thatcher to abandon the Poll Tax.[67]

Backbenches and leadership contest

He returned to the backbenches where he became increasingly critical of Margaret Thatcher's leadership. He did not support the Community Charge (popularly known as the poll tax), although he only voted against the government to support an amendment proposed by his ally Michael Mates that would have adjusted the charge tax to take account of ability to pay. He abstained in the December 1989 Conservative party leadership election, in which Sir Anthony Meyer challenged Thatcher for the party leadership and repeatedly insisted that he could "not foresee ... circumstances" in which he would challenge Thatcher himself for the leadership. Following Geoffrey Howe's resignation speech on 13 November 1990,[68] his position changed and Heseltine announced his candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative party.

During the subsequent leadership election on 20 November, he polled 152 votes (40.9%) 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 at least 15% on a first ballot; Thatcher polled 204 votes, equal to 54.8%). 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 27 would had to have done so to give Heseltine the overall majority he would need in the second ballot.[69]

With lukewarm support from her Cabinet, most of whom had told her that she could not win and faced with the bitter prospect of a Heseltine premiership, Thatcher withdrew from the contest and announced her resignation on the morning of 22 November, although she continued to serve as Prime Minister until a new party leader had been chosen.[70]

Heseltine was disappointed not to receive the support of old allies on the second ballot; these included Tom King (whom he asked in vain to second his nomination, but who supported Douglas Hurd), Cecil Parkinson and Norman Lamont (who managed Major’s campaign).[71] Over the weekend on 24–25 November, 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 chancellor John Major would also boost Conservative support if 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 against or to try to oust 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. Heseltine immediately and publicly conceded defeat, announcing that he would vote for Major if the third ballot went ahead (it did not, as 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".

Heseltine believed that he would have defeated Thatcher if she had contested the second ballot. It has been suggested that he should have withdrawn after weakening her on the first ballot, and that he would have been restored to the Cabinet whether or not she continued as Prime Minister; he writes that this was never seriously suggested at the time.[72]

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 the 'poll tax' being abolished, allegedly declining an offer of the position of Home Secretary. Following 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[73] including many of the mines in Nottinghamshire that had continued working during the 1984–85 strike. Although this policy was seen by the Nottinghamshire miners as a betrayal, 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 ten least viable mines.[74] The government stated that since the pits were losing money they could be sustained only 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 giving to their coal industries. While 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; the same group had once dedicated a song to the village of Fitzwilliam, West Yorkshire, which was reduced to a ghost village by the closure of the local coal pits.

On 21 June 1993, Heseltine suffered a major heart attack[75] while in Venice, which led to concerns about his ability to remain in government after he was shown on television 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. In 1994 he re-emerged as a serious political player, helped by his flirting with the idea of privatising the Post Office. His testimony for the Scott Report during the Arms-to-Iraq Inquiry (whose report eventually appeared in 1996) revealed 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 scandals following his "Back to Basics" speech. However, there was to be no leadership election that autumn.

Deputy Prime Minister

John Major was consistently opposed by Eurosceptics in his party (known as the Maastricht Rebels – a small minority of MPs before 1997, but enjoying much wider support among party activists). Heseltine always stated categorically that he would never stand for party leader against Major.[76] In mid-1995 Major challenged his critics 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 they stayed loyal to Major.

Heseltine, who showed his ballot paper to the returning officers to prove that he had voted for Major,[77] commented that "John Major deserves a great deal better than that from his colleagues".[78]

He was then 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.

The day after the government was defeated at the 1997 General Election, Heseltine suffered an attack of angina and had a tube inserted into an artery; he declined to stand for the Conservative Party leadership again.[79] However, he was less unpopular with eurosceptics than Clarke, and on the third ballot of the subsequent leadership election Clarke, facing imminent defeat by William Hague, offered to stand aside in Heseltine's favour, but he declined on medical advice.[80][81] 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 in the 1997 resignation Honours List.[82] In November 1999 Heseltine was invited by Hague to be the Conservative candidate for the new position of Mayor of London (in place of Jeffrey Archer who had had to stand down because of scandal), but he declined.[83]


Lord Heseltine, June 2010.

Heseltine stood down from his Henley-on-Thames constituency at the 2001 election, being succeeded by Spectator editor Boris Johnson, but he remained outspoken on British politics. He was created a life peer on 12 July 2001 taking the title Baron Heseltine, of Thenford in the County of Northamptonshire.[84]

In December 2002, Heseltine controversially called for Iain Duncan Smith to be replaced as leader of the Conservatives by the "dream-ticket" of Clarke as leader and Michael Portillo as deputy.[85] 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.[85] Duncan Smith was removed the following year. In the 2005 party leadership election, Heseltine backed young moderniser David Cameron.[86]

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 Thatcher and Major.

In 2008 Heseltine took part in the BBC Wales programme Coming Home about his Welsh family history. He said in this programme that he regarded Wales as his home and identified strongly with his Welsh ancestry.[87]

In March 2011, he was asked to head an audit of the UK's industrial performance for Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and HM Treasury, upon which—after 11 years as a member of the House of Lords—he made his maiden speech in the chamber.[88]

Heseltine was interviewed in 2012 as part of The History of Parliament's oral history project.[89][90]

No stone unturned

Heseltine speaking to Policy Exchange in 2013

Following the arrival of the Coalition into power in 2010, he was commissioned to draw up "Plan H" or "No Stone Left Unturned" to stimulate growth in local areas. Since then, 81 out of his 89 recommendations have been adopted. At the 2013 Budget, the Coalition pledged to pool billions of pounds of regional spending into a single fund in a bid to de-centralise public spending and boost economic growth outside London.[91]

Other Heseltine comments

Heseltine criticised the Coalition's policy on Europe, but he did support the tightening of immigration laws. He also supported George Osborne's Budget measures in 2013 and Iain Duncan Smith's welfare reforms, but showed concerns over the legalisation of same-sex marriage.[92] In June 2013, he voted against Lord Dear's wrecking amendment, thus ratifying the same-sex marriage act.[93][94]

He described the 2016 Brexit referendum result to leave the European Union as "the greatest constitutional crisis of modern times" and condemned Leave campaigner Boris Johnson as a coward for pulling out of the Conservative leadership election after winning the referendum, likening him to "a general who has led his troops to the sound of guns, and, at first sight of battle, has left the field."[95][96] Lord Heseltine queried the way Theresa May as home secretary campaigned to remain in the EU though "within a few weeks" of becoming PM, she insisted "Brexit means Brexit".[97]

In March 2017 he was sacked from a number of advisory roles within government after rebelling over the article 50 legislation in the House of Lords, but insisted he would continue working to avert the “disaster” of Brexit. He later said that it was "quite unacceptable" for Germany to be in dominant position in Europe, having lost the Second World War.[98][99] Heseltine feels the 48% of British voters who voted 'remain' are being ignored. He sees Brexit as a historic loss of power for Britain and feels Britain's interests are in Europe.[100]

Lord Heseltine queried the way Theresa May as home secretary campaigned to remain in the EU though "within a few weeks" of becoming PM, she insisted "Brexit means Brexit". Heseltine mentioned a speech by Mrs May before the EU referendum, where she urged Britain to "stand tall and lead in Europe". Lord Heseltine said: "I don't know how someone who made that speech can, within a few weeks, say Brexit is Brexit and ask the nation to unite behind it...[unlike Margaret Thatcher] This lady was for turning."[101]

Family and personal life

Heseltine married Anne Harding Williams in 1962.[102][103] They have three children:[103] Annabel (born in 1963), Rupert (born in 1967) and Alexandra (born in 1966) and nine grandchildren.[104][citation needed] During the period Heseltine was the MP for Tavistock in Devon (from 1966 to 1974), Heseltine became part of a local 'fishing gang' with Ted Hughes. His wife was delighted, as an admirer of the poet, but Heseltine himself did not initially know who he was.[2]

At the beginning of November 2016, drawing on an interview with Tatler magazine,[2] it was reported that Heseltine had confessed to strangling his mother's alsatian in 1964, after the animal had drawn blood, which was falsely interpreted as him having killed the dog. A rumour about such an incident had been in circulation since a 1990 article in The Observer and an unauthorised biography. In fact, Heseltine had subdued the animal using its choke collar after it had attacked him.[105][106] In an interview with the Press Association, Heseltine said the dog was put down the next day at the vet's insistence, because it had become dangerous and a threat to his pregnant wife and elderly mother.[107]

In January 2017 Heseltine was convicted of careless driving and fined £5,000, following an incident on 19 June 2016 in which he pulled out into the path of a cyclist, causing serious injuries, including a broken arm and shattered knees, which required plates and pins.[108]

Thenford gardens and arboretum

The Heseltines purchased Thenford House and its grounds in 1976 and over the next 25 years restored 40 acres (16 ha) of woodland together with the walled garden, medieval fish-ponds and a 2 acres (0.81 ha) lake. At the turn of the century they decided to create various ornamental features in the garden and increase the range of trees and shrubs in the arboretum. Covering over 70 acres (28 ha) the arboretum is stocked with over 3000 different species.Their arboretum was featured in a one-off documentary on BBC Two in December 2005.[109][110] In October 2016 he and his wife Anne were featured on BBC's Gardeners' World, discussing their garden at Thenford House, parts of which were modelled after the gardens at Château de Villandry.[111] The garden is open to the public by appointment only.[112]

Styles of address

  • 1933–1966: Michael Heseltine, Esq
  • 1966–1979: Michael Heseltine MP
  • 1979–1997: The Right Honourable Michael Heseltine MP
  • 1997–2001: The Right Honourable Michael Heseltine CH MP
  • 2001–present: The Right Honourable The Lord Heseltine CH PC



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  2. ^ a b c d Edwardes, Charlotte (1 November 2016). "Lord Heseltine Talks Gardens, Politics and His Mother's Dog Kim". Tatler. Retrieved 1 November 2016. 
  3. ^ BBC Wales Coming Home – 29 September 2008
  4. ^ Michael Heseltine, Life in the Jungle, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000, ISBN 0-340-73915-0, p13-25
  5. ^ Andrew Marr, A History of Modern Britain (2009) p 418
  6. ^ Michael Heseltine, Life in the Jungle, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000, ISBN 0-340-73915-0, p. 32
  7. ^ Pearce 2016 p.539
  8. ^ a b c d Michael Heseltine, Life in the Jungle, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000, ISBN 0-340-73915-0, pp. 25–39
  9. ^ Pearce 2016 pp.541–2
  10. ^ a b Magnus Linklater; David Leigh (1986). Not with honour: the inside story of the Westland scandal. Sphere Books. p. 11. 
  11. ^ a b Crick, p. 357
  12. ^ Michael Heseltine, Life in the Jungle, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000, ISBN 0-340-73915-0, pp. 33
  13. ^ His brief opposition to the H-Bomb caused him some embarrassment as Defence Secretary in 1984, when it was unearthed by the "Guardian" newspaper. He later recorded that he would have been more embarrassed had the newspaper uncovered his support for Aneurin Bevan's foreign policy positions the previous year.[Life in the Jungle pp.29–35]
  14. ^ Michael Heseltine, Life in the Jungle, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000, ISBN 0-340-73915-0, pp. 35
  15. ^ Pearce 2016 pp.550–2
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  28. ^ Army regulations at the time normally required men earmarked for National Service commissions to first serve a period in the ranks. In practice the Guards, like many other regiments, used this to subject its “Potential Officers” to nine weeks of intensive training under Colour Sergeant Peter Horsfall, designed in part to weed out those who were unlikely to make the grade.[Life in the Jungle: pp50-3]
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  36. ^ it is unclear whether they actually built as many as this
  37. ^ Michael Heseltine, Life in the Jungle, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000, ISBN 0-340-73915-0, p70-3
  38. ^ Michael Crick, Michael Heseltine: A Biography, Hamish Hamilton, 1997, ISBN 0-241-13691-1, p105-7
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  40. ^ Michael Heseltine, Life in the Jungle, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000, ISBN 0-340-73915-0, pp. 67–9
  41. ^ Heseltine misdates this to July 1962. In fact the squeeze was a year earlier, in July 1961, and Lloyd was dismissed as chancellor in July 1962.[Life in the Jungle, pp.70–3]
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  54. ^ The Sunday Times Rich List, pp. 44–45, 21 April 2013
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  56. ^ the National Liberals had been a breakaway group under Sir John Simon, who sat in coalition with the Conservatives between 1931 and 1945. By the 1950s they had merged with the Conservatives for practical purposes, but the name was still used locally in some seats.
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  70. ^ "1990: Thatcher quits as prime minister". BBC News. 22 November 1990. 
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  96. ^ ["Having led his troops to the sound of guns, Boris Johnson now abandons his army within sight of the battlefield". telegraph.co.uk. 1 July 2016. Retrieved 26 March 2017. 
  97. ^ "Brexit 'clears way' for German domination claims Heseltine". 24 March 2017. Retrieved 26 March 2017. 
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  100. ^ Lord Heseltine: Brexit Britain relinquishes power BBC
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  104. ^ "You can leave your childhood home, but it never leaves you, says Michael Heseltine's daughter", Daily Mail 15 July 2011
  105. ^ Morgan, Tom; Wilkinson, Michael (1 November 2016). "Lord Heseltine: The truth about rumours I strangled my mother's dog". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 November 2016. 
  106. ^ "Heseltine: I did not kill my mother's Alsatian". BBC News. 1 November 2016. Retrieved 1 November 2016. 
  107. ^ Siddique, Haroon (1 November 2016). "Michael Heseltine's alsatian-strangling tale was shaggy dog story". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 November 2016. 
  108. ^ "Lord Heseltine fined for knocking cyclist off bike". BBC News. 6 January 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2017. 
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  110. ^ Bland, Archie (23 October 2016). "Lord and Lady Heseltine on gardening: 'We shot 350 squirrels – absolutely awful things'". The Guardian. 
  111. ^ "Gardeners' World, 2016: Episode 30". bbc.co.uk. 
  112. ^ "Thenford gardens & arboretum". Thenfordarboretum.com. Retrieved 16 November 2016. 
  113. ^ Stevenson, Alexander (2015). The Public Sector:Managing the Unmanageable. Kogan Page. ISBN 978-0-7494-6777-7. .

External links

  • Haymarket Group
  • BBC: Heseltine: Political CV
  • Guardian: Aristotle article on Michael Heseltine
  • Guardian interview with Michael Heseltine by Simon Hattenstone
  • Interview about battling CND for the WGBH series,
  • War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
  • Thatcher's First Cabinet
  • 2009 New Statesman interview
  • 2012 interview as part of the History of Parliament oral history project
  • Thenford Gardens & Arboretum
  • Photos of the garden
  • Thenford:The Creation of an English garden
  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Michael Heseltine
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Henry Studholme
Member of Parliament for Tavistock
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
John Hay
Member of Parliament for Henley
Succeeded by
Boris Johnson
Political offices
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Albert Murray
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport
Post abolished
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Peter Shore
Secretary of State for the Environment
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Tom King
Preceded by
John Nott
Secretary of State for Defence
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George Younger
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Chris Patten
Secretary of State for the Environment
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Michael Howard
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President of the Board of Trade
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Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
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Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
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First Secretary of State
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