Hezza the Welsh mongrel 'humiliated' by Nye Bevan

Michael Heseltine
Image caption Having failed to win Gower, Michael Heseltine was eventually elected in Tavistock in 1966.

Some more summer listening for you in the gap between updates in the Labour leadership contest. Michael Heseltine has been sharing his memories of growing up in south Wales for a Radio 4 programme.

Swansea-born Lord Heseltine fought his first (doomed) election campaign in Gower in the 1959 general election, when he left national service with the Welsh Guards to stand in the Conservative cause.

He recalls an encounter on the campaign trail with Aneurin Bevan: "It was certainly a wonderful moment for me to be so publicly humiliated by so great a figure."

'Englishman'

He explains: "I did the thing that all aspiring politicians do. No-one came to my meetings, there were no Conservatives in any numbers in the the Gower peninsula so I tried to get into a joint meeting with Ifor Davies, the Labour candidate and I went to any lengths - I challenged him to meet me, accused him of being a coward and all that sort of thing.

"Anyway he very rightly had nothing to do with me but then I saw this advertisement in the South Wales Evening Post. 'The Labour Party, the Rt Hon Aneurin Bevan will address the party in the Elysium Cinema on October 10, 1959'. So I thought 'well, this is too good to be true' and I, in the rain, in the dark, thousands of us descended on the Elysium cinema.

"I took my seat at the back of the third tier and on they all came and Nye Bevan introduced them one-by-one, all the Labour MPs, and then he said 'we have Ifor Davies, the candidate for Gower here tonight' whereupon a voice was heard at the back of the third balcony of the Elysium cinema - 'you have both [sic - Plaid Cymru stood too] the candidates for Gower here tonight'.

"Nye crouched over the microphone. He said, 'Ah, I hear the voice of an Englishman'."

Lord Heseltine adds wryly: "I didn't actually win the seat, you know." Labour's Ifor Davies won by 17,604 votes although the seat was won by the Conservatives in last year's general election.

The Elysium Cinema closed its doors a year later - and national service was abolished in the same year.

'Lloyd George'

In the programme, he confirms the former deputy prime minister confirms his admiration for David Lloyd George: "I would identify with the Welshness, the passion." In government, he displayed a huge portrait of Lloyd George at the Ministry of Defence.

His interviewer, Lord (Peter) Hennessey recalls, as a young journalist, meeting Lord Heseltine at the MoD and receiving a strange request about the painting. "It would be very nice if you didn't mention that too much because you understand why Peter but I'm not sure the Conservative Party will understand why he's up there."

Lord Heseltine suggests some Conservatives still think he's not right-wing enough to be considered a genuine Tory but argues "without people like me the Conservative Party shrivels to the right and becomes unelectable."

'Mongrel'

He agrees with Hennessey that he is proud of his Welsh roots. "I'm very proud but I have to be upfront. My paternal grandmother was 100% French. My maternal grandfather had, I think, at most half-Welsh blood, so I'm frankly that very common phenomenon of the United Kingdom, a mongrel.....but a proud Welsh mongrel, that's true."

You can listen to the full interview here.

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