The Right Honourable Michael Ray Dibdin Heseltine, Baron Heseltine, CH, PC (born 21 March 1933), is a British Conservative politician and businessman. He is a patron of the Tory Reform Group.
Heseltine was born in Swansea, Wales, was educated at Shrewsbury School and then attended Pembroke College, Oxford and became President of the Oxford Union. From this period there is an apocryphal story that he wrote on the back of an envelope 'millionaire 25, cabinet member 35, party leader 45, prime minister 55'. He went on to make millions in the publishing industry through his company Haymarket, which publishes magazines and did become a member of the cabinet before the age of 40 - but failed to achieve the last two.
Life as an MP
He became an MP in 1966 when he was elected as member for Tavistock in Devon, subsequently representing Henley from 1974. Following the Conservative victory in the United Kingdom General Election in 1970, he was promoted to the ranks of government by Prime Minister Edward Heath. In 1970 he served 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. He then moved to the Department of Industry from 1972 onwards.
In oppostion during the 1974 - 1979 period he became Shadow Industry Secretary. He also became notorious following an incident in 1976 in the House of Commons during the debate on measures introduced by the 1974-1979 Labour Government to nationalise the shipbuilding and aerospace industries. Accounts of exactly what happened vary, but the most colourful image portrayed Heseltine seizing the mace and brandishing it towards Labour left-wingers who were celebrating winning the vote by singing the Red Flag, his long fair hair flowing behind him. Heseltine subsequently acquired the nickname Tarzan or, on occasion, Hezza.
He was appointed to the cabinet of Margaret Thatcher as Secretary of State for the Environment in 1979. He was sent in as a troubleshooter to deal with the explosion of violence in Britain's inner cities in the aftermath of the Brixton and Toxteth riots during the early 1980s. He was responsible for developing the policies that led to five bi-annual National Garden Festivals, starting in 1984. He then served as Secretary of State for Defence from 1983 until 1986, when he resigned over the bitter dispute with the prime minister over Westland Helicopters known as the Westland affair.
Life at the Backbench and the Return
He retired to the backbenches, where he became increasingly critical of Margaret Thatcher's performance as prime minister. Using a carefully-worded statement which later became a cliche, he repeatedly insisted he could "not foresee the circumstances" in which he would challenge her for the leadership. But circumstances altered dramatically following Sir Geoffrey Howe's resignation speech in November 1990, and Heseltine announced his candidature. He did well enough in the first round of voting to prevent an outright Thatcher victory, and at one point appeared on course to beat her in the second ballot; but faced with humiliation and the bitter prospect of a Heseltine premiership, Thatcher resigned and the contest – which Douglas Hurd also entered – was eventually won by John Major.
Afterwards Heseltine returned to government as Secretary of State for the Environment (with particular responsibility for replacing the poll tax). After the 1992 UK general election, he was appointed President of the Board of Trade promising to intervene "before breakfast, dinner and tea" to help British companies.
In 1993 Heseltine suffered a heart attack, leading to health concerns, particularly because he was televised leaving hospital in a wheelchair. In 1994, Chris Morris implied on BBC Radio 1 (as a joke) that Heseltine had died, which was sufficiently plausible that fellow MP Jerry Hayes broadcast an on-air tribute. Morris was subsequently suspended for the prank.
In the summer of 1995 John Major, having found himself consistently opposed by a minority of Eurosceptics in his party, challenged them to "put up or shut up" by resubmitting himself to a leadership election in which he was unsuccessfully opposed by the Secretary of State for Wales, John Redwood. There was speculation that Heseltine's supporters would engineer Major's downfall in the hope that their man would take over, but in the event they stayed loyal, and Heseltine was rewarded by promotion to Deputy Prime Minister. In this capacity he chaired a number of key Cabinet committees and was also an early key enthusiast for the Millennium Dome.
After Labour won the 1997 election, he was unable to stand for the Conservative Party leadership again because of health problems, but 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 by John Major in the 1997 resignation Honours List.
He resigned his Henley-on-Thames constituency at the 2001 Election but remained outspoken on British politics. He was given a life peerage as Baron Heseltine, of Thenford in the County of Northamptonshire.
In December 2002 Heseltine controversially called for Iain Duncan Smith to be replaced as leader of the Conservatives by the "dream-ticket" of Kenneth Clarke as leader and Michael Portillo as deputy. 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. Duncan Smith was removed the following year. In the 2005 party leadership election, he backed the young moderniser, David Cameron.
He was ranked 170th in the Sunday Times Rich List 2004, with an estimated wealth of £240m.
He is now a keen gardener and his large estate was featured in a one off documentary on BBC Two in December 2005