Image: File photo of Sir Edward Heath
AP file
Former British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath in a 1992 photograph.
updated 7/17/2005 4:51:26 PM ET 2005-07-17T20:51:26

Sir Edward Heath, a former British prime minister defeated in government by pay strikes and in opposition by Margaret Thatcher in 1970s, died Sunday, a spokesman said. He was 89.

A carpenter's son who broke the tradition of blue bloods leading the British Conservative Party, he was a born politician, and an accomplished yachtsman and musician.

In 1992, he became Sir Edward, a member of the country's most prestigious order of chivalry, the knights of the Garter.

Heath came to power in 1970 pledging a "quiet revolution" to end Britain's long cycle of post-World War II decline, but "Sailor Ted" was thwarted and, in the end, brought down by militant unions.

The major achievement of his four years as prime minister was to negotiate Britain's 1973 entry into the European Community, overturning years of resistance to British membership both domestically and by France, which had vetoed Britain's entry in 1967.

At home, unrest over pay grew. In 1974, with Britain reduced to a three-day week by striking coal miners, Heath called an election demanding "who governs?" in a challenge to the unions. He lost to Harold Wilson's Labor Party and lost again when Wilson called an election in October that year.

In all, Heath had taken the party to defeat by Labor three times since becoming leader of the party in 1965.

The Tories rebelled and in February 1975 another outsider with humble origins, the grocer's daughter Margaret Thatcher, challenged him for the party leadership and won.

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