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James Callaghan

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James Callaghan

The Right Honourable
The Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
5 April 1976 – 4 May 1979
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Harold Wilson
Succeeded by Margaret Thatcher
Father of the House
In office
9 June 1983 – 11 June 1987
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by John Parker
Succeeded by Bernard Braine
Leader of the Opposition
In office
4 May 1979 – 10 November 1980
Monarch Elizabeth II
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Margaret Thatcher
Succeeded by Michael Foot
Leader of the Labour Party
In office
5 April 1976 – 10 November 1980
Deputy Michael Foot
Preceded by Harold Wilson
Succeeded by Michael Foot
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
In office
5 March 1974 – 5 April 1976
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Alec Douglas-Home
Succeeded by Anthony Crosland
Shadow Foreign Secretary
In office
19 April 1972 – 28 February 1974
Leader Harold Wilson
Preceded by Denis Healey
Succeeded by Geoffrey Rippon
Shadow Secretary of State for Employment
In office
19 October 1971 – 19 April 1972
Leader Harold Wilson
Preceded by Shirley Williams
Succeeded by Denis Healey
Shadow Home Secretary
In office
19 June 1970 – 19 October 1971
Leader Harold Wilson
Preceded by Quintin Hogg
Succeeded by Shirley Williams
Home Secretary
In office
30 November 1967 – 19 June 1970
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Roy Jenkins
Succeeded by Reginald Maudling
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
16 October 1964 – 30 November 1967
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Reginald Maudling
Succeeded by Roy Jenkins
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
2 November 1961 – 16 October 1964
Leader Harold Wilson
Preceded by Harold Wilson
Succeeded by Reginald Maudling
Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty
In office
2 March 1950 – 25 October 1951
Prime Minister Clement Attlee
Preceded by John Dugdale
Succeeded by Allan Noble
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport
In office
7 October 1947 – 2 March 1950
Prime Minister Clement Attlee
Preceded by George Strauss
Succeeded by George Lucas
Member of Parliament
for Cardiff South and Penarth
Cardiff South East (1950–1983)
Cardiff South (1945–1950)
In office
26 July 1945 – 11 June 1987
Preceded by Arthur Evans
Succeeded by Alun Michael
Personal details
Born Leonard James Callaghan
(1912-03-27)27 March 1912
Portsmouth, Hampshire, United Kingdom
Died 26 March 2005(2005-03-26) (aged 92)
Ringmer, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Audrey Callaghan
Children Margaret
Profession Trade union official
Religion None[1]
Military service
Service/branch Royal Navy
Rank Lieutenant
Battles/wars World War II

Leonard James Callaghan, Baron Callaghan of Cardiff, KGPC (27 March 1912 – 26 March 2005) was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1976 to 1979 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1976 to 1980. Callaghan is to date the only politician in history to have served in all four of the "Great Offices of State", having been Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1964 to 1967, Home Secretary from 1967 to 1970, and Foreign Secretary from 1974, until his appointment as Prime Minister in 1976.[2]

Callaghan's period as Chancellor of the Exchequer coincided with a turbulent period for the British economy, during which he had to wrestle with a balance of payments deficit and speculative attacks on the pound sterling. In November 1967, the Government was forced to devalue the pound sterling despite having previously denied that this would be necessary. Callaghan offered to resign over the matter, but instead swapped ministerial positions with Roy Jenkins to become Home Secretary. In that capacity, Callaghan took the decision to use the Army to support the police in Northern Ireland, after a request from the Northern Ireland Government.

After Labour lost the 1970 election, Callaghan played a key role in the Shadow Cabinet before returning to office as Foreign Secretary in 1974, taking responsibility for renegotiating the terms of Britain's membership of the European Economic Community, and supporting a "Yes" vote in the 1975 referendum for the UK to remain in the EEC. When Harold Wilson suddenly resigned as Prime Minister in 1976, Callaghan defeated five other candidates to be elected as his replacement. Labour had already lost its small majority in the House of Commons by the time he became Prime Minister, and further by-elections and defections forced Callaghan to deal with minor parties such as the Liberal Party, particularly in the "Lib-Lab pact" from 1977 to 1978. Industrial disputes and widespread strikes in the 1978 "Winter of Discontent" made Callaghan's government unpopular, and the defeat of the referendum on devolution for Scotland led to the successful passage of a motion of no confidence on 28 March 1979. This was followed by a defeat in the ensuing general election.

Callaghan remained Leader of the Labour Party until 1980, to reform the process by which the Party elected its leader, before returning to the backbenches where he remained until retiring as an MP in 1987. He died in 2005, one day before his 93rd birthday. He is the longest-lived British Prime Minister to date.


  • 1912 to 1944: early life and career 1
  • 1945 to 1976: parliament and cabinet 2
    • Chancellor of the Exchequer 2.1
    • Home Secretary 2.2
    • Foreign Secretary 2.3
    • Election as Leader of the Labour Party 2.4
  • Prime Minister 3
    • "Winter of Discontent" 3.1
  • Resignation, backbenches and retirement 4
  • Personal life 5
  • In popular culture 6
  • Titles from birth to death 7
  • Arms 8
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12

1912 to 1944: early life and career

James Callaghan was born at 38 Funtington Road, Copnor, Portsmouth, England on 27 March 1912. He was named after his father, also James Callaghan (1877–1921), who was a Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer.[3] His mother was Charlotte Callaghan née Cundy (1879–1961). His paternal grandmother was Jewish.[4]

He had an older sister, Dorothy Gertrude Callaghan (1904–82). He attended Portsmouth Northern Secondary School (now Mayfield School). He gained the Senior Oxford Certificate in 1929, but could not afford entrance to university and instead sat the civil service Entrance Exam.

At the age of 17, Callaghan left to work as a clerk for the Inland Revenue. While working as a tax inspector, Callaghan was instrumental in establishing the Association of Officers of Taxes as a trade union for those in his profession and became a member of its national executive. While at the Inland Revenue offices in Kent, in 1931, he joined the Maidstone branch of the Labour Party. In 1934, he was transferred to Inland Revenue offices in London. Following a merger of unions in 1936, Callaghan was appointed a full-time union official and to the post of Assistant Secretary of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation and resigned from his Civil Service duties.

His union position at the Inland Revenue Federation brought Callaghan into contact with Harold Laski, the Chairman of the Labour Party's National Executive Committee and an academic at the London School of Economics. Laski encouraged him to stand for Parliament, although later on he requested Callaghan several times to study and lecture at the LSE. Callaghan joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as an Ordinary Seaman in World War II from 1942 where he served in the East Indies Fleet and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in April 1944.[5] While training for his promotion, his medical examination revealed that he was suffering from tuberculosis and was admitted to the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar in Gosport near Portsmouth. After he recovered, he was discharged and assigned to duties with the Admiralty in Whitehall. He was assigned to the Japanese section and wrote a service manual for the Royal Navy The Enemy Japan.

Whilst on leave, Callaghan was selected as a Parliamentary candidate for Swansea, who was in turn an associate and friend of the local Labour Party secretary Bill Headon.[6] During 1945 he was assigned to the East Indies Fleet and served on HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Indian Ocean. After VE Day, along with other prospective candidates he returned to the United Kingdom to stand in the general election.

1945 to 1976: parliament and cabinet

Labour won a landslide victory on 26 July 1945 bringing Clement Attlee to power. Callaghan won his Cardiff South seat in the 1945 UK general election (and would hold a Cardiff-area seat continuously until 1987). He defeated the sitting Conservative incumbent candidate, Sir Arthur Evans, by 17,489 votes to 11,545. He campaigned on such issues as the rapid demobilisation of the armed forces and for a new housing construction programme.[7] At the time of his election, his son Michael was born.

Callaghan was soon appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport in 1947 where, advised by the young chief constable of Hertfordshire, Sir Arthur Young, his term saw important improvements in road safety, notably the introduction of zebra crossings, and an extension in the use of cat's eyes. He moved to be Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty from 1950 where he was a delegate to the Council of Europe and resisted plans for a European army.

Callaghan was popular with Labour MPs and was elected to the Shadow Cabinet every year while the Labour Party was in opposition from 1951 to 1964. He was Parliamentary Adviser to the Hugh Gaitskell died in January 1963, Callaghan ran to succeed him, but came third in the leadership contest, which was won by Harold Wilson. However, he did gain the support of right-wingers, such as Denis Healey and Anthony Crosland, who wanted to prevent Wilson from being elected leader but who also did not trust George Brown.

Chancellor of the Exchequer

In October 1964, Conservative Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home (who had only been in power for 12 months since the resignation of Harold Macmillan) called a general election. It was a tough election, but Labour won a narrow majority, gaining 56 seats (a total of 317 to the Conservatives' 304). The new Labour government under Harold Wilson immediately faced economic problems and Wilson acted within his first hours to appoint Callaghan as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The new government had to cope with a balance of payments deficit and speculative attacks on Sterling. It was the policy of the whole government, and one in which Callaghan concurred, that devaluation should be avoided for as long as possible and he managed to arrange loans from other central banks and some tax rises to stabilise the economy. Callaghan's time as chancellor was to be during a time of crisis; with high inflation, high unemployment and an unstable economy with a deficit in the budget, a deficit in the balance of import and exports and most importantly conflict over the value of the pound.

On 11 November, Callaghan gave his first budget and announced increases in income tax, petrol tax and the introduction of a new capital gains tax, actions which most economists deemed necessary to take the heat out of the balance and sterling deficit, though international bankers disagreed.[8]

On 23 November, it was decided to increase the bank rate from 2% to 7% which generated a large amount of criticism. Handling the crisis was made more difficult by the attitude of Lord Cromer, the Governor of the Bank of England, who argued against the fiscal policies of the new Labour government. When Callaghan and Wilson threatened to call a new general election, the governor soon raised a £3 billion loan to stabilise the reserves and the deficit.[9] His second budget came on 6 April 1965, in which he announced efforts to deflate the economy and reduce home import demand by £250 million. Shortly afterwards, the bank rate was reduced from 7% down to 6%. For a brief time, the economy and British financial market stabilised, allowing in June for Callaghan to visit the United States and to discuss the state of the British economy with President Lyndon Baines Johnson and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In July, the pound came under extreme pressure and Callaghan was forced to create harsh temporary measures to demonstrate control of the economy. These include suspending all current government building projects and postponing new pension plans. The alternative was to allow the pound to float or to devalue it. Callaghan and Wilson however were again adamant that a devaluation of the pound would create new social and economic problems and continued to take a firm stance against it.[10] The government continued to struggle both with the economy and with the slender majority which, by 1966, had been reduced to one. On 28 February, Harold Wilson formally announced an election for 31 March 1966. On 1 March, Callaghan gave a 'little budget' to the Commons and announced the historic decision that the UK would adopt decimal currency. It was actually not until 1971, under a Conservative government, that the United Kingdom moved from the system of pounds, shillings and pence to a decimal system of 100 pence to the pound. He also announced a short-term mortgage scheme which allowed low-wage earners to maintain mortgage schemes in the face of economic difficulties. Soon afterwards, Labour won 363 seats compared to 252 seats against the Conservatives, giving the Labour government a large majority of 97.

Callaghan introduced his next Budget on 4 May. He had informed the house that he would bring a full Budget to the House when he made his 'little budget' speech prior to the election. The main point of his budget was the introduction of a Selective Employment Tax, penalising the service industry and favouring the manufacturing industry.[11][12] Twelve days after the budget, the National Union of Seamen called a national strike and the problems facing Sterling were multiplied.[13] Additional strikes caused the balance of payments deficit to increase and the 3.3 billion loan was now due. Unemployment was also rising; it had been just over 300,000 when Labour came to power, but two years later it was climbed to more than 500,000.

On 14 July, the bank rate was increased again to seven percent. On 20 July, Callaghan announced an emergency ten-point programme with a six-month freeze on wage and salary increases. By 1967, the economy had begun to stabilise once again and the bank rate was reduced to 6% in March and 5.5% in May.

It was under these conditions that Callaghan beat Michael Foot in a vote to become Treasurer of the Labour Party.

The economy was soon in turmoil again, with the Middle East crisis between Egypt and Israel raising oil prices. Furthermore, the economy was hit in mid-September when a national dock strike lasted for eight weeks. A run on Sterling began with the six-day war and with the closure of the Suez Canal and with the dock strike, the balance of payments deficit grew to a critical level. A Common Market report suggested that the pound could not be sustained as a reserve currency and it was suggested again that the pound should be devalued. Wilson and Callaghan refused a contingency fund offered from the IMF because of several conditions attached. On Wednesday 15 November, the historic decision was taken to commit the government to a 14.3% devaluation. The situation was a great political controversy at the time. As Denis Healey in his autobiography, notes:

Before the devaluation, Jim Callaghan had announced publicly to the Press and the House of Commons that he would not devalue, something he later said was necessary to maintain confidence in the pound and avoid creating jitters in the financial markets. Callaghan immediately offered his resignation as Chancellor and increasing political opposition forced Wilson to accept it. Wilson then moved Roy Jenkins, the Home Secretary, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Callaghan became the new Home Secretary on 30 November 1967.

Home Secretary

Callaghan's tenure as Home Secretary was marked by the emerging conflict in Northern Ireland and it was as Home Secretary that he took the decision to deploy British Army troops in the province after a request from the Ulster Unionist Government of Northern Ireland.

Callaghan was also responsible for the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968; a controversial piece of legislation prompted by Conservative assertions that an influx of Kenyan Asians would soon inundate the country. It passed through the Commons in a week and placed entry controls on holders of British passports who had "no substantial connection" with Britain by setting up a new system. In his memoirs Time and Chance, Callaghan wrote that introducing the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill had been an unwelcome task but that he did not regret it. He claimed the Asians had "discovered a loophole" and he told a BBC interviewer: "Public opinion in this country was extremely agitated, and the consideration that was in my mind was how we could preserve a proper sense of order in this country and, at the same time, do justice to these people – I had to balance both considerations". An opponent of the Act, Conservative MP Ian Gilmour, asserted that it was "brought in to keep the blacks out. If it had been the case that it was 5,000 white settlers who were coming in, the newspapers and politicians, Callaghan included, who were making all the fuss would have been quite pleased".

Also significant was the passing of the Race Relations Act in the same year, making it illegal to refuse employment, housing or education on the basis of ethnic background. The Act extended the powers of the Race Relations Board at the time, to deal with complaints of discrimination and unfair attitudes. It also set up a new supervisory body, the Community Relations Commission, to promote "harmonious community relations".[15] Presenting the Bill to Parliament, the Home Secretary, Jim Callaghan, said, "The House has rarely faced an issue of greater social significance for our country and our children."

In 1969, Callaghan, a strong supporter of the Labour–Trade Union link, led the successful opposition in a divided cabinet to Barbara Castle's White Paper "In Place of Strife" which sought to modify Trade Union law. Amongst its numerous proposals were plans to force unions to call a ballot before a strike was held and the establishment of an Industrial Board to enforce settlements in industrial disputes. Ironically, if the proposals had become law, many of the activities of the trades unions during the Winter of Discontent a decade later would have been illegal.

Following Wilson's unexpected defeat by Edward Heath in the 1970 General Election, Callaghan declined to challenge him for the leadership despite Wilson's vulnerability. This did much to rehabilitate him in Wilson's eyes. He was in charge of drawing up a new policy statement in 1972 which contained the idea of the Social Contract between the government and trade unions. He also did much to ensure that Labour opposed the Heath government's bid to enter the Common Market—forcing Wilson's hand by making his personal opposition clear without consulting the Party Leader.

Foreign Secretary

When Wilson won the next general election and returned as Prime Minister in March 1974, he appointed Callaghan as Foreign Secretary which gave him responsibility for renegotiating the terms of the United Kingdom's membership of the Common Market. When the talks concluded, Callaghan led the Cabinet in declaring the new terms acceptable and he supported a 'Yes' vote in the 1975 referendum.

Election as Leader of the Labour Party

Barely two years after beginning his second spell as prime minister, Wilson announced his surprise resignation on 16 March 1976, and unofficially endorsed Callaghan as his successor. Callaghan was the favourite to win the leadership election, although he was the oldest candidate; he was also the most experienced and least divisive. Popularity with all parts of the Labour movement saw him through the ballot of Labour MPs to win the leadership vote. On 5 April 1976, at the age of 64 years and 9 days, Callaghan became Prime Minister – the oldest person to become Prime Minister at time of appointment since Winston Churchill.

Prime Minister

Callaghan was the only Prime Minister to have held all three leading Cabinet positions – Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary – prior to becoming Prime Minister.

Callaghan meets with US President Jimmy Carter, 1978.

During his first year in office, Callaghan started what has since become known as 'The Great Debate', when he spoke at Ruskin College, Oxford about the 'legitimate concerns' of a public about education as it took place in the nation's maintained schools. This discussion led to greater involvement of the government, through its ministries, in the curriculum and administration of state education, leading to the eventual introduction of the National Curriculum some ten years later.[16]

Callaghan's time as Prime Minister was dominated by the troubles in running a Government with a minority in the House of Commons: he was forced to make deals with minor parties to survive – including the Lib-Lab pact, and he had been forced to accept referendums on devolution in Scotland and Wales (the former went in favour but did not reach the required majority, and the latter went heavily against). He also became prime minister at a time when Britain was suffering from double-digit percentage inflation and rising unemployment. He responded to the economic crises by adopting deflationary policies to reduce inflation, and cutting public expenditure – a precursor to the monetarist economic policies that the next government, a Conservative one led by Margaret Thatcher, would pursue to ease the crises.[17]

Callaghan and his ministers did, however, introduce a number of reforms during their time in office. The Supplementary Benefits Act 1976 gave every person over the age of 16, whose resources were not enough to meet his or her basic needs, the right to claim a supplementary pension if he or she had reached state-pension age, and a supplementary allowance if he or she was less than this age.[18][19] The Rent (Agricultural) Act 1976 provided security of tenure for agricultural workers in tied accommodation, while the Bail Act 1976 reformed bail conditions with courts having to explain refusal of bail. The Police Act 1976 set up a Police Complaints Board "to formalise the procedure for dealing with public complaints." The Education Act 1976 limited the taking up of independent and Direct grant school places and required all local authorities who had failed to do so "to submit proposals for comprehensive schools," while the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 extended local council responsibility "to provide accommodation for homeless people in their area,"[20] and instituted the right of homeless families to a permanent local council tenancy.[21] In addition, efforts were made under Peter Shore to redistribute resources towards deprived urban areas.[22] The Inner Urban Areas Act 1978 allowed local authorities to assist declining industrial areas and central government provided new subsidies to those inner city areas with the most problems,[23] while the 1978 Finance Act introduced profit-sharing schemes.[24]

The Training Opportunities Scheme, under which more than 90 000 people completed their training in 1976 and which catered mainly for people over 19 years old, was extended during 1977 to include provisions for training persons for self-employment. In addition, technician training was extended and the network of skillcentres continued to expand. In August 1977, a scheme for voluntary early retirement was introduced in the coal industry for men aged 62 or more with 20 or more year's underground service, with weekly payments up to normal pensionable age. In January 1977, unions became authorized to lodge a claim on behalf of workers with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service for an improvement in terms and conditions of employment on the grounds that existing terms and conditions were less favourable than the relevant recognized terms and conditions for the trade in the area or, where these did not exist, the general level. In February, sections of the Employment Act 1975 were brought into operation dealing with the qualifying hours for part-time work, thereby entitling large numbers of part-time workers to the same rights and job security as full-time workers. Also in February, employees became entitled to receive guarantee payments from their employers when laid off or on short time, while in April sections of the 1975 Employment Act were activated giving employees the right to paid time off work in order to perform certain public duties. The main provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976 came into force in June 1977, making it unlawful for an employer to discriminate in recruitment or dismissal or in the treatment of existing employees in matters of promotion, transfer, training or other benefits on the grounds of nationality, race, colour, colour, or ethic or national origins. A Commission for Racial Equality was established to work towards the elimination of discrimination the promotion of equality of opportunity, and good relations between persons of different racial groups.[25]

In Scotland, the Community Service by Offenders Act 1978 introduced provisions whereby offenders might, under certain circumstances, be ordered by courts to undertake community work as an alternative to a prison sentence. This legislation brought Scotland in line with England and Wales where similar provisions already apply. The Mines (Precautions Against Inrushes) Regulations 1979 applied to all types of mines and made provision for measures to be taken against the hazard of inrushes of water or gas or material which flows when wet.[26]

In housing policy, a shift of emphasis in housing policy towards rehabilitation was evident in the further increase in the number of General Improvement Areas and the number of Housing Action Areas declared. An Act of March 1977 makes provision, for a limited period, for benefits to be paid from the age of 64 to workers who agree to retire in order to free jobs for young unemployed people. A number of other improvements were introduced in 1977, with Attendance Allowances extended to cover handicapped foster children and non-contributory disablement pensions extended to married women whose invalidity prevented them from carrying out their household tasks. In January 1977, regulations were issued which brought about a change in the administration of legislation governing fire precautions at places of work. Under these regulations the Health and Safety Executive retained full responsibility for fire safety in certain 'special' premises such as nuclear installations, coalmines and chemical plants, whereas responsibility for general fire precautions at places of work was transferred to local fire authorities.[27] In July 1977, an experimental Job Introduction Scheme was introduced to provide financial assistance enabling certain disabled people to undertake a trial period of employment with an employer, where there was reasonable doubt as to the person’s ability to perform a particular job. In July 1978, a revised and simplified scheme designed to assist severely disabled people with their travel-to-work costs was introduced.[28]

The Homes Insulation Act 1978 provided for grants to occupiers towards the cost of thermal insulation of their dwellings, while under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations recognized trade unions were allowed to appoint safety representatives who would have certain rights and functions. As part of an extension in external consultation on the prevention of industrial accidents and occupationally induced diseases the Health and Safety Commission established three Industry Advisory Committees for construction, railways and oil and regulations were issued in March 1978 dealing with the packaging and labelling of some 800 dangerous chemicals commonly used at work and in the home. Improvements to the Mineworkers Sick Pay Scheme were also introduced from 1978, with improvement in the formula for calculating benefit improved and the period of 'waiting days' reduced from seven to three.[29] The Home Purchase Assistance and Housing Corporation Guarantee Act 1978, gave help to first-time home buyers.[30] The Consumer Safety Act 1978 protected consumers from purchasing potentially harmful goods,[31] while the 1979 Credit Unions Act, the last piece of legislation passed by the Labour government,[32] set up a legal structure for credit unions.[33]

Despite the economic difficulties faced by the government, over the summer of 1978 (shortly after the end of the Lib-Lab pact)[34] most opinion polls showed Labour ahead, and the expectation grew that Callaghan would call an autumn election that would have given him a second term in office until autumn 1983. The economy had also started to show signs of recovery by this time. 1978 was a year of economic recovery for Britain, with inflation falling to single digits, unemployment declining during the year, and general living standards going up by more than 8%.[35] Famously, he strung along the opposition and was expected to make his declaration of election in a broadcast on 7 September 1978.[36] His decision to put off the election, at the time, seen by many as a sign of his domination of the political scene and he ridiculed his opponents by singing old-time music hall star Vesta Victoria's song "Waiting at the Church" at that month's Trades Union Congress meeting: now seen as one of the greatest moments of hubris in modern British politics, but celebrated at the time. Callaghan intended to convey the message that he had not promised an election, but most observers misread his message as an assertion that he would call an election, and the Conservatives would not be ready for it.

"Winter of Discontent"

Callaghan's method of dealing with the long-term economic difficulties involved pay restraint which had been operating for four years with reasonable success. He gambled that a fifth year would further improve the economy and allow him to be re-elected in 1979, and so attempted to hold pay rises to 5% or less. The trade unions rejected continued pay restraint and in a succession of strikes over the winter of 1978–79 (known as the Winter of Discontent) secured higher pay. The industrial unrest made his government extremely unpopular, and Callaghan's response to one interview question only made it worse. Returning to the United Kingdom from an economic summit held in Guadeloupe in early 1979, Callaghan was asked, "What is your general approach, in view of the mounting chaos in the country at the moment?" Callaghan replied, "Well, that's a judgement that you are making. I promise you that if you look at it from outside, and perhaps you're taking rather a parochial view at the moment, I don't think that other people in the world would share the view that there is mounting chaos." This reply was reported in The Sun under the headline "Crisis? What Crisis?". Callaghan also later admitted in regard to the Winter of Discontent that he had "let the country down".[37]

The Winter of Discontent saw Labour's performance in the opinion polls slump dramatically. They had topped most of the pre-winter opinion polls by several points, but in February 1979 at least one opinion poll was showing the Tories 20 points ahead of Labour and it appeared certain that Labour would lose the forthcoming election.[38]

In the buildup to the election, the Daily Mirror and The Guardian supported Labour, while The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and The Daily Telegraph supported the Conservatives.[39]

On 28 March 1979, the House of Commons passed a Motion of No Confidence by one vote, 311–310, which forced Callaghan to call a general election that was held on 3 May.[40] The Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher ran a campaign on the slogan "Labour Isn't Working" and won the election.

Callaghan's failure to call an election during 1978 was widely seen as a political miscalculation; indeed, he himself later admitted that not calling an election was an error of judgement. After losing power in 1979, Labour would spend the next 18 years in opposition.[41]

Resignation, backbenches and retirement

At the Guadelupe Conference, 1979
left to right: Helmut Schmidt, Jimmy Carter, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, James Callaghan.

Notwithstanding electoral defeat, Callaghan stayed on as Labour leader until 15 October 1980, shortly after the party conference had voted for a new system of election by electoral college involving the individual members and trade unions. His resignation ensured that his successor would be elected by MPs only. After a campaign that laid bare the deep internal divisions of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Michael Foot narrowly beat Denis Healey on 10 November in second round of the election to succeed Callaghan as leader.

In 1982, along with his friend Gerald Ford, he co-founded the annual AEI World Forum.

In 1983, he attacked Labour's plans to reduce defence,[42][43] and the same year became Father of the House as the longest continuously serving member of the Commons. He was by this time one of only three survivors of the 1945 general election, but the only one with continuous service. Michael Foot and Ian Mikardo also remained of the 1945 intake, but Michael Foot had been out of the House from 1955 to 1960 and Mikardo from 1959 to 1964.

In 1987, he was made a Knight of the Garter and stood down at the Bank of Wales.

Callaghan's wife Audrey, a former chairman (1969–1982) of Great Ormond Street Hospital, spotted a letter to a newspaper which pointed out that the copyright of Peter Pan, which had been assigned by J. M. Barrie to the hospital, was going to expire at the end of that year, 1987 (50 years after Barrie's death, the current copyright term). In 1988, Callaghan moved an amendment to the Copyright Designs & Patents Act, then under consideration in the House of Lords, to grant the hospital a right to royalty in perpetuity despite the lapse of copyright, and this was passed by the government.

In July 1996, he was awarded an honorary degree from the Open University as Doctor of the University.

In October 1999, Callaghan told The Oldie Magazine that he would not be surprised to be considered as Britain's worst prime minister in 200 years. He also admitted in this interview that he "must carry the can" for the Winter of Discontent.[44]

Personal life

Callaghan's interests included rugby, tennis and agriculture. He married Audrey Elizabeth Moulton, whom he had met when they both worked as Sunday School teachers at the local Baptist church,[45] in July 1938 and had three children – one son and two daughters.

  • Margaret, Baroness Jay of Paddington
  • Julia, who married Ian Hamilton Hubbard and settled in Lancashire
  • Michael, who married Julia Morris and settled in Essex.

Although there is much doubt about how much belief Callaghan retained into adult life, the Baptist nonconformist ethic was a profound influence throughout all of his public and private life. In the mid-1980s Callaghan told an interviewer that he was an atheist.

One of his final public appearances came on 29 April 2002, when at the age of 90 he sat alongside the then prime minister Tony Blair and the three other surviving former prime ministers at the time at Buckingham Palace for a dinner which formed part of the celebrations for the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II, alongside his daughter Margaret, Baroness Jay, who had served as Leader of the House of Lords from 1998 to 2001.[46]

Callaghan died on 26 March 2005 at Ringmer, East Sussex, of lobar pneumonia, cardiac failure and kidney failure. He passed away 11 days after his wife's death on 15 March 2005 and the day before what would have been his 93rd birthday. He died as the longest-lived British former prime minister, having beaten Harold Macmillan's record 39 days earlier. Lord Callaghan was cremated and his ashes were scattered in a flower bed around the base of the Peter Pan statue near the entrance of London's Great Ormond Street Hospital, where his wife had formerly been chair of the board of governors.

In popular culture

The song "Time for Truth" from The Jam's debut album, In the City, a scathing critique of the state of the British nation, directly addresses Callaghan: "I think it's time for truth, and the truth is you lost, Uncle Jimmy."

The Callaghan Library at Ruskin College, Oxford is named after Callaghan. The library was opened in 2011: the ceremony was attended by James Callaghan's son Michael and grandson Joe, the latter being a student at the college.[47]

Titles from birth to death

  • James Callaghan, Esq (27 March 1912 – 1943)
  • Lieutenant James Callaghan, RNVR (1943 – 26 July 1945)
  • Lieutenant James Callaghan, MP (26 July 1945 – 21 October 1964)
  • Lieutenant The Right Honourable James Callaghan, MP (21 October 1964 – ?)
  • The Right Honourable James Callaghan, MP (? – 23 April 1987)
  • The Right Honourable Sir James Callaghan, KG, MP (23 April 1987 – 11 June 1987)
  • The Right Honourable Sir James Callaghan, KG (11 June 1987 – 5 November 1987)
  • The Right Honourable The Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, KG, PC (5 November 1987 – 26 March 2005)


Arms of James Callaghan
A Sea-Dragon sejant Gules, langued and scaled Or, its tail Or, scaled Gules, the dorsal fin Gules, gorged with a Mural Crown Or, masoned Gules, supporting to the front with the fin of the dexter foreleg a Portcullis Or.
Quarterly Vert and Azure, in the former a portcullis chained Or, in the latter a lymphad with an anchor at its prow and masted also Or, the sail set Argent, and pennants flying Gules, over all a fess Or, to the sinister thereof a grassy mount thereon a hurst of oak trees and issuing therefrom passant to the dexter a wolf, all proper.
MALO LABORARE QUAM LANGURE (I had rather labour than be idle)

See also


  1. ^ "One of the more enduring marks on British life left by the atheist, Prime Minister Callaghan, was to remove exclusive responsibility for the appointment of bishops from his own office and share it largely with a commission of churchmen. Since 1976, the Prime Minister has been limited to choosing one from two nominees of the commission or, in exceptional cases, sending the list back for the commission to produce a new one."
    Hugo Young, 'A relic of history best left undisturbed', The Guardian (London), 27 March 1990.
  2. ^ Although, in Parliament, Callaghan represented a district in Wales (Cardiff), by birth and language he is considered English, thus leaving David Lloyd George as the sole British prime minister to emanate from Wales.
  3. ^ Page 1, Callaghan: British Prime-Ministers of the 20th century, Harry Conroy, Haus Publishing 2006
  4. ^ Kenneth O. Morgan, Callaghan: A Life, 1997, p.5 "His father's mother was Elizabeth Bernstein, from Sheffield; he was, therefore, a quarter Jewish as well."
  5. ^ J.N. Houterman. "Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) Officers 1939–1945". Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  6. ^ Page 11, Callaghan: British Prime-Ministers of the 20th century, Harry Conroy, Haus Publishing 2006
  7. ^ Page 13, Callaghan: British Prime-Ministers of the 20th century, Harry Conroy, Haus Publishing 2006
  8. ^ Page 35, Callaghan: British Prime-Ministers of the 20th century, Harry Conroy, Haus Publishing 2006
  9. ^ Page 36, Callaghan: British Prime-Ministers of the 20th century, Harry Conroy, Haus Publishing 2006
  10. ^ Page 38, Callaghan: British Prime Ministers of the 20th century, Harry Conroy, Haus Publishing 2006
  11. ^ The Cabinet Papers: Reform and VAT, from the National Archives
  12. ^ Britain:Selective Torment, Time Magazine, Friday, 16 September 1966
  13. ^ Page 40, Callaghan: British Prime-Ministers of the 20th century, Harry Conroy, Haus Publishing 2006
  14. ^ "James Callaghan". 19 July 1966. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  15. ^ "BBC ON THIS DAY | 26 | 1968: Race discrimination law tightened". BBC News. 26 November 1983. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  16. ^ Eason, Gary (27 March 2005). "Callaghan's Great Education Debate". BBC News. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  17. ^ "History – James Callaghan". BBC. Retrieved 28 March 2012. 
  18. ^'+Payments+and+Social+Security+Act,+1979&hl=en&sa=X&ei=6rXZUZGgEYSsOoHRgIgB&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Pensioners'%20Payments%20and%20Social%20Security%20Act%2C%201979&f=false
  19. ^
  20. ^ The Longman Companion to The Labour Party 1900–1998 by Harry Harmer
  21. ^ British Social Welfare in the Twentieth Century, edited by Robert M. Page and Richard Silburn
  22. ^ Prime Minister: The Conduct of Policy under Harold Wilson & James Callaghan by Bernard Donoughue
  23. ^ New Labour, Old Labour: The Wilson and Callaghan Governments, 1974–79 edited by Anthony Seldon and Kevin Hickson
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ Final Term: The Labour Government 1974-1976 by Harold Wilson
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^ A Short History of the Labour Party by Henry Pelling
  36. ^ "BBC ON THIS DAY | 7 | 1978: Callaghan accused of running scared". BBC News. 7 September 1978. Retrieved 28 March 2012. 
  37. ^ pg.377 of The Prime Minister by Peter Hennessy
  38. ^ "Comment & Analysis | New Labour And Delivery". Ipsos MORI. Retrieved 28 March 2012. 
  39. ^ Stoddard, Katy (4 May 2010). "Newspaper support in UK general elections". The Guardian (London). 
  40. ^ "1979: Early election as Callaghan defeated". London: BBC News. 28 March 1979. Retrieved 29 March 2009. 
  41. ^ Wilenius, Paul (5 March 2004). "Enemies within: Thatcher and the unions". BBC News. 
  42. ^ Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: Leonard James Callaghan Baron Callaghan of Cardiff
  43. ^ "Britain: The road to New Labour". Retrieved 28 March 2012. 
  44. ^ "Callaghan expects 'worst PM' tag". BBC News. 8 October 1999. 
  45. ^ Julia Langdon (17 March 2005). "Audrey Callaghan". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  46. ^ "Queen dines with her prime ministers". BBC News. 29 April 2002. 
  47. ^ BBC News



  • Callaghan, James. Time and Chance. Collins, 1987.
  • Callaghan, James. Challenges and Opportunities for British Foreign Policy. Fabian Society, 1975.


  • Conroy, Harry. James Callaghan. Haus, 2006.
  • Derbyshire, Dennis. Politics in Britain: From Callaghan to Thatcher (Political Spotlights). Chambers, 1990.
  • Donoughue, Bernard. Prime Minister: Conduct of Policy Under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, 1974–79. Jonathan Cape, 1987.
  • Donoughue, Bernard. The Heat of the Kitchen. Politico's Publishing, 2003.
  • Healey, Denis. The Time of My Life. Michael Joseph, 1989.
  • Jefferys, Kevin (ed). Leading Labour. I. B. Tauris, 1999.
  • Morgan, Kenneth O. Callaghan: A Life. Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Rosen, Greg. Dictionary of Labour Biography. Politico's Publishing, 2001.
  • Rosen, Greg. Old Labour to New. Politico's Publishing, 2005.

External links

  • More about James Callaghan on the Downing Street website.
  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by James Callaghan
  • An interview with Chancellor Callaghan after an IMF interview at Rio, Brazil
  • Official portrait of James Callaghan by David Griffiths
  • 'Prime Ministers in the Post-War World: James Callaghan', lecture by Professor the Gresham College on 5 June 2007 (with video and audio files available for download)
  • Portraits of James Callaghan, Baron Callaghan of Cardiff at the National Portrait Gallery, London
  • Archival material relating to James Callaghan listed at the UK National Archives
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