Heath also tried to curb the trade unions with the Industrial Relations Act 1971, and hoped to deregulate the economy and make a transfer from direct to indirect taxation. Rising unemployment in 1972 led him to reflate the economy; he attempted to control the resulting high inflation by a prices and incomes policy. Two miners' strikes, in 1972 and at the start of 1974, damaged the government; the latter caused the implementation of the Three-Day Week to conserve energy. Heath eventually called an election for February 1974 to obtain a mandate to face down the miners' wage demands, but this instead resulted in a hung parliament in which the Labour Party, despite gaining fewer votes, had four more seats than the Conservatives. Heath resigned as Prime Minister after trying in vain to form a coalition with the Liberal Party. Despite losing a second general election in October that year, he vowed to continue as leader of his party. In February 1975, Margaret Thatcher challenged and defeated him to win the leadership.
Returning to the backbenches, Heath became an active critic of Thatcher's leadership. He remained a backbench MP until retiring at the 2001 election, serving as the Father of the House for his last nine years in Parliament. Outside politics, Heath was a world-class yachtsman and a talented musician. He died in 2005, aged 89. He is one of only four British prime ministers never to have married.
Edward Heath was born at 54 Albion Road, Broadstairs, Kent on 9 July 1916, the son of William George Heath (1888–1976), a carpenter and builder, and Edith Anne Heath (née Pantony; 1888–1951), a maid. His father was later a successful small businessman. Heath was known as "Teddy" as a young man. Heath was educated at Chatham House Grammar School in Ramsgate, and in 1935 with the aid of a county scholarship he went up to study at Balliol College, Oxford.
In later years, Heath's peculiar accent – with its "strangulated" vowel sounds, combined with his non-Standard pronunciation of "l" as "w" and "out" as "eout" – was satirised by Monty Python's Flying Circus in the audio sketch "Teach Yourself Heath" (originally recorded for their 1972 LP Monty Python's Previous Record but not released at the time). Heath's biographer John Campbell speculates that his speech, unlike that of his father and younger brother, who both spoke with Kent accents, must have undergone "drastic alteration on encountering Oxford", although retaining elements of Kent speech.