Who wants a museum to Edward Heath?





There is discontent brewing in the tranquil waters of The Close, Salisbury. For some time before his death, Sir Edward Heath let it be known that he would leave his beautiful house there, Arundells, to a trust. In due course, Arundells would be opened to the public as a museum to his own life and work. The day is fast approaching. Mr James Elder, a former secretary to the great man, confided in hushed tones that "it will be as Sir Edward left it - that was his wish." It will open, he hoped, in July.

Not everyone, however, is very keen on the prospect. The Close Preservation society disapproves of the building being turned over to non-residential use, perhaps envisaging crowds of Sir Edward's admirers arriving in hired coaches to shatter the peace. Perhaps they hadn't read the details of the proposed museum's highlights. They include two vases given to Sir Edward by Chairman Mao, two portraits of Churchill and, oh, ever so many other things.

Sir Edward Heath was a great one for "letting it be known" and beginning letters "My attention has recently been drawn" - translations, "going about telling people" and "I've just read". He was not known for a lack of a sense of his own achievement. Even so, one could not have predicted that he would seriously think it worthwhile leaving a museum commemorating himself to the nation. I can console members of the Close Preservation Society; their tranquillity will surely go undisturbed by mobs of Heathite fanatics.

Heath forged links with Mao, and will be remembered as the prime minister who took Britain into Europe, but otherwise ran a fairly disastrous administration from 1970 to 1974. He instigated one of the most catastrophic policy U-turns in history, and allowed his government to collapse in shame and disgrace. He was legendarily rude in person, ended his career in a three-decade sulk, was almost always wrong about everything, and lost three out of the four general elections he contested. One might think the record was one to inspire a posthumous silence.

What he must have been thinking about, however, was the habit of American presidents of endowing presidential libraries after they step down. The libraries, often with a reverential museum attached, contain the president's papers and can be useful centres of research, or not much visited. Every American president since Roosevelt has done this, even Nixon, although his papers are in the national archives for obvious reasons.

That has never been the British practice. ....



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