Benn buries old rivalry to save home of Ted Heath

The Sunday Times Published: 16 October 2011. Lois Rogers.

Putting political rivalry aside, Tony Benn has emerged as an unlikely figurehead of a campaign to keep Ted Heath’s home open for the public

For decades, they roamed Westminster as rival “big beasts” of the politicial world but the former Labour minister Tony Benn has become the unlikely champion of a campaign to save the home of Sir Edward Heath, the late Conservative prime minister, for the nation.

Benn has become the figurehead of the Friends of Arundells, named after Heath´s former home in Salisbury´s Cathedral Close, who recently convinced the Charity Commission to reject a request by the trustees of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation to sell the property.

The group argues that Heath´s wish that the house be maintained in perpetuity should be granted, and that if Arundells was better promoted it would attract enough visitors to make it financially viable.

Benn, 86, said: “I have given my support to this campaign because I know the house, I knew Ted, obviously, and visited him there after he retired from politics.”

Arundells opened to the public in 2008, three years after Heath´s death aged 89, and has attracted 14,500 visitors a year.

Opposition to keeping the house, ironically, is led by Robert Armstrong, Heath´s former private secretary and the chairman of the charitable foundation, who was also a cabinet secretary of Heath´s political nemesis, Lady Thatcher.

Armstrong unsuccessfully applied to the Charity Commission for permission to sell the estate and use the proceeds for other charitable purposes.

The trust is now deciding if it will appeal.