I was somewhat horrified to read various titillating reports in the tabloid press about former prime minister Ted Heath's bedroom antics. I don't know when we're going to be done with the moral-panic witch-hunt which currently seems to be engulfing us, by but if we're not prepared to draw the line anywhere else, I'd suggest chasing after the dead and those whose minds don't function anymore is a good place to stop. Why? Firstly because the dead and the insane have no right of reply and can't defend themselves. You can say anything you like about a dead person without any fear of reprisal. Secondly, because you can't punish the dead, you can only reward the living, so before we can unstitch facts, we have to look very carefully at the motives of those who have waited forty years before reporting a crime which we're invariably told "ruined their lives."
Perhaps it's a little controversial and unkind to say that if the crimes were so bad, their "victims" ought to have come forward a great deal sooner. I'm afraid I don't buy this nonsense about the Jimmy Savile business giving people the courage to come forward. Why didn't the same thing happen when Gary Glitter was arrested ten years ago? I think by sensationalising child abuse claims, we completely undermine what is a very serious crime, and get in the way of the legal system doing its job. If we spend huge amounts of the public purse convicting dead people and compensating their victims, we run the risk of not dealing with present day criminals who pose a far bigger threat to the community at large.
The question becomes, when do we stop? Should we take thee Marquis de Sade to court? Or Samuel Pepys? He had a bit of a penchant for barely pubescent girls, so maybe we should suddenly start burning his diaries just as we destroyed Savile's gravestone?
I think it's worth looking a little more closely at Ted Heath. We don't know - and probably never will know - the exact nature of his sexual proclivities, but it seems possible that he was a gay man in an era where no one - particularly not a prime minister - would ever be allowed to be truthful about their sexuality. Ted Heath became an MP in a world where blackmail, jail and chemical castration were common solutions to the "gay problem." I genuinely think that all bets are off in circumstances like this. You can't expect a gay man from that era to have a clearly defined moral code. Everything he did in those days was considered immoral and grotesque. Even after it was legalised, right up until the mid 1990s, a gay paedophile was a bloke who slept with a lad under the age of 21.
I would personally like to look at what I consider to be much more interesting facts about Ted Heath. Heath was from working class stock. The son of a carpenter, he got into grammar school and won an organ scholarship at Balliol College, Oxford. He fought in the Second World War and was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery. As Prime Minister, he oversaw decimalisation and took Britain into the European Economic Community. In latter days he developed a hatred for Margaret Thatcher, which, in my view makes him a fairly decent sort. Heath served continually as an MP from 1950 to 2001, which is a record and greatly supported the arts in his constituency. He conducted Christmas Carol concerts in his home town of Broadstairs from his teenaged years until his old age and was the founding president of the European Youth Orchestra. Good. For. Him.
And yet, we're prepared to sweep all this aside for a bit of red top tittle-tattle? Sometimes I don't feel that proud to be British!