Lord Heseltine: The Tory grandee who engineered the downfall of Margaret Thatcher

Lord Heseltine has been sacked after his Brexit rebellion.
Lord Heseltine has been sacked after his Brexit rebellion.
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Michael Heseltine was the most prominent, controversial, outspoken and effective senior politician of the 1980s and 1990s who never became prime minister.

He was the darling of the Tory faithful - particularly the Conservative ladies - with his streaming golden locks and his passionate, over-the-top speeches at party conferences.

Lord Heseltine has been sacked following his Brexit rebellion.

Lord Heseltine has been sacked following his Brexit rebellion.

Michael Heseltine: I won’t stop speaking out – Brexit is most momentous peacetime decision of our time

Lord Heseltine sacked from Government following Brexit rebellion

But above all, he is fated to be remembered as the man who toppled Margaret Thatcher from power, only cruelly to be denied the fulfilment of his searing ambition - to replace her in 10 Downing Street. He was the very-nearly-but-not-quite man of British politics.

The Thatcherites who live on in the Conservative Party never forgave him for engineering Mrs Thatcher's downfall.

The ambition to be prime minister never deserted him, although the heart attack he suffered in Venice in June 1993 effectively ended any lingering hope that he would get there.

A further heart-related illness immediately after the 1997 general election rout of the Tories also put paid to any prospects he may still have harboured about leading the Conservative Party, and he immediately ruled himself out of the running after John Major's decision to retire.

Lord Heseltine's dashing political career - in office and out - was peppered with conflict and controversy.

His unbridled self-confidence was apparent in the early 1950s, when he mapped out his political career on the back of a crumpled envelope.

He divided his future into decades, and placed against each decade the stage in his political career which he assumed he would have reached. Against the 1990s he simply wrote: "Downing Street".

The nearest he got to it was by forcing Mrs Thatcher to resign. But he was thwarted by Mr Major, the man who was everything that Lord Heseltine was not - modest, patient, benign and hugely unexciting.

Some seasoned parliamentarians believe that he had a long-term plot to get to Downing Street, which started in earnest with his furious Cabinet walk-out as Defence Secretary in January 1986 following the Westland Helicopters affair.

It put him in a strong position, so long as he bided his time, to challenge Mrs Thatcher when the critical moment came.

He did not turn into a backbench fiend, as she had feared, instead being the soul of support, careful not to undermine her position, backing Government policies and driving home the pro-Thatcher message.

But he denounced her in private and in 1990 challenged for the leadership.

Mrs Thatcher polled 204 votes to Mr Heseltine's 152 - insufficient for an overall first ballot victory, and she later quit. Lord Heseltine went up against Mr Major and lost, quickly conceding defeat.

He later came back into government as Environment Secretary - the post to which Mrs Thatcher appointed him in 1979 - before becoming Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Under Mr Major he was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and first Secretary of State, but did not seek the leadership when Mr Major resigned in 1997.

He returned to the backbenches and was voluble in his criticism of new leader William Hague's policy of ruling out European Monetary Union for at least two parliaments.

So profound was his commitment to Europe and so unhappy was he about Lord Hague's sceptical approach that he even joined the Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on a pro-European platform in 1999.

He was also one of the few senior Opposition MPs at the time who supported the Millennium Dome - now the O2 Arena. It was a project which most Conservatives treated with derision, even though the idea was conceived during Mr Major's administration.

Lord Heseltine retired from the House of Commons at the 2001 general election and was subsequently made a life peer.

He backed David Cameron in the 2005 leadership battle and was brought back into the fray last year to lead a £140 million redevelopment programme targeting sink estates in the wake of the 2011 civil unrest.

In 2016 he again hit the headlines in a rather bizarre fashion - having to deny killing his mother's dog.

And in January he was fined £5,000 after knocking a cyclist off his bike.

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Michael Heseltine: I won’t stop speaking out – Brexit is most momentous peacetime decision of our time

Lord Heseltine sacked from Government following Brexit rebellion