By IAN DRURY
Last updated at 18:53 24 April 2007
He led the Tories to a surprise General Election victory over Labour, took Britain into Europe and lost power after failing to beat the unions over the three-day week.
But Sir Edward Heath might never have had a stint in 10 Downing Street had he not heeded advice to stop 'cottaging' for gay sex.
For he was warned in the 1950s that cruising for homosexual encounters could destroy his political career.
Sir Edward, a lifelong bachelor who died in 2005, always refused to comment on his sexuality.
But Brian Coleman, a senior Tory member of the London Assembly, has claimed the ex-Prime Minister had actively sought gay sex in public places.
He said it was 'common knowledge' among Conservatives that Sir Edward had been given a stern warning by police when he underwent background checks for the for the post of Privy Councillor.
In an internet article for the New Stateman magazine, Mr Coleman claimed that gay men had run the Conservative Party in the capital for years, whether as officials, councillors or volunteers.
He wrote that Britain 'had managed for decades with gay men holding a significant number of public offices'.
Mr Coleman, who is gay himself, added: 'The late Ted Heath managed to obtain the highest office of state after he was supposedly advised to cease his cottaging activities in the Fifties when he became a Privy Councillor.'
Sir Edward, a world-class yachtsman, endured a torrid time as Prime Minister after winning power in 1970. He took office promising to be 'tough on pay and tough on unions'.
But following endless powercuts, a three-day working week and a pay freeze against the background of the 1970s oil crisis, he was humiliated after being defeated in the snap General Election of 1974.
Derek Conway, Sir Edward's successor as Tory MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, denied there had been any hint of impropriety in his private life.
He said: 'Ted was absolutely wedded to politics. He didn't have a great deal of personal companionship in his life but there are people who are capable of getting on with their lives without companionship.'
Mr Coleman made his claim in an article that complained about gay men in public life often being 'outed' by others against their will.
Senior police chiefs, cathedral deans and Tory MPs now regularly feature in the gay press, he said.
He wrote: 'I once asked the late Baroness Blatch as she tried to position herself to inherit the anti-gay crusade of Baroness Young exactly who she thought ran the Conservative Party in London?
'When she looked at me blankly I replied 'the gay men of course' and certainly a huge percentage of Conservative councillors, professional staff and association officers are gay.'
He said the practice of 'outing' public figures was carried out by tabloid newspapers to 'discourage thousands of men' from standing for office.
He cited disgraced Liberal Democrat Mark Oaten, a former party leadership candidate, who last year announced he would resign as an MP after his sordid six-month affair with a male prostitute was exposed.
Fellow Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Simon Hughes was also forced to admit he was gay after repeatedly denying the fact.
But Mr Coleman said: "In my experience the only people fascinated as to who does what and to whom are other gay men.
"The average voter could not care less if their Member of Parliament visits Hampstead Heath at Midnight as long as they get the holes in the road mended."