- A different James Callaghan was MP for Heywood & Middleton.
|Period in Office:||5 April, 1976 – 4 May, 1979|
|PM Predecessor:||Harold Wilson|
|PM Successor:||Margaret Thatcher|
|Date of Birth:||27 March, 1912|
|Date of Death:||26 March, 2005|
|Place of Birth:||Portsmouth, Hampshire|
|Place of Death:||Ringmer, East Sussex|
|Retirement honour:||Knighthood of the Garter|
Life Barony (Callaghan of Cardiff)
Leonard James Callaghan, Baron Callaghan of Cardiff, KG, PC (27 March 1912 – 26 March 2005), was Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1976 to 1979. He was known by his second name, James, shortened to Jim, giving his nicknames "Sunny Jim" or "Big Jim". Callaghan is the only person to have filled the three great offices of state (Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary) before becoming Prime Minister; indeed, he is the only person to have held all of the first three posts.
Callaghan was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1964 to 1967 during a turbulent period in the British economy in 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. Callaghan offered to resign, but was persuaded to swap his ministerial post with Roy Jenkins, becoming Home Secretary from 1967 to 1970. In that capacity, Callaghan took the decision to deploy the British Army to Northern Ireland after a request from the Northern Ireland Government.
Callaghan returned to office as Foreign Secretary in March 1974, taking responsibility for renegotiating the terms of Britain's membership of the Common Market, and supporting a "Yes" vote in the 1975 referendum for the UK to remain in the EEC. When Harold Wilson resigned in 1976, Callaghan was elected as the new leader by Labour MPs. His only term as Prime Minister was dogged by Labour's lack of a majority in the House of Commons, forcing Callaghan to deal with minor parties such as the Ulster Unionists, a process which led to the Lib-Lab Pact. Industrial disputes in the 'Winter of Discontent' of 1978-79 made Callaghan's government unpopular and the defeat of the referendum on devolution to Scotland led to defeat on a Motion of No Confidence on 28 March 1979. This was followed by a heavy defeat by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party in the ensuing general election.
Table of contents
Early life and career
Callaghan was the son of a Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer of Irish ancestry, who died when Callaghan was aged 9. He was educated at a Portsmouth state school, and left at 16 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. Following a merger, Callaghan was appointed as full-time Assistant Secretary of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation.
This job brought Callaghan into contact with Harold Laski, the Chair of the Labour Party's National Executive Committee and a respected academic at the London School of Economics. Laski encouraged him to stand for Parliament. Callaghan joined the Royal Navy Patrol Service in World War II from 1943, rising to the rank of Lieutenant. While on leave, Callaghan was selected as a Parliamentary candidate for Cardiff South, later Cardiff South East. He won the seat in the 1945 UK general election, and would hold a Cardiff-area seat continuously until 1987.
Callaghan was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport in 1947 where his term saw 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 Police Federation from 1955 to 1960 when he negotiated an increase in police pay. He ran for the Deputy Leadership of the party in 1960 as an opponent of unilateral nuclear disarmament, and despite the other candidate of the Labour right (George Brown) agreeing with him on this policy, he forced Brown to a second vote.
In 1961 Callaghan became a Shadow Chancellor. When Hugh Gaitskell died in January 1963, Callaghan ran to succeed him but came third. He was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer when Labour won the 1964 general election and 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 and he managed to arrange loans from other central banks and some tax rises in order to stabilize the economy.
However, the effect of the Six Day War and a dock strike increased the speculation in November 1967 and the Government was forced to devalue the pound from $2.80 to $2.40 on November 18. Callaghan offered his resignation immediately, but Harold Wilson persuaded him to stay on and he was appointed Home Secretary in a job swap with Roy Jenkins two weeks later. His background in the trade union movement led to his being a focus for opposition to the employment laws proposed by his cabinet colleague Barbara Castle in 1969. In this struggle (called The Battle of Downing Street) he ultimately prevailed, and the proposals (set out in the White paper In Place of Strife) were dropped. Some within the party who disliked Harold Wilson began to plot to destabilize him and have Callaghan take over at about this time. Callaghan also took the decision to deploy United Kingdom troops in Northern Ireland after a request from the Ulster Unionist Government of Northern Ireland.
After Wilson's shock 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.
When Wilson was again appointed Prime Minister in March 1974, he appointed Callaghan as Foreign Secretary which gave him responsibility for renegotiating the terms of Britain'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.
As Prime Minister
Wilson announced his surprise resignation on March 16, 1976 and unofficially endorsed Callaghan as his successor. His popularity with all parts of the Labour movement saw him through the ballot of Labour MPs. Callaghan was the first 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's support for and from the union movement should not be mistaken for a left wing position: unlike Wilson Callaghan had been a supporter of Hugh Gaitskell in the battles over labour's direction in the 1950s and he settled old scores by sacking the Bevanite Barbara Castle when he became party leader.
Callaghan did, though, continue Wilson's policy of a balanced Cabinet and relkied heavily on the man he defeated for the job of party leader – the arch-Bevanite Michael Foot. Foot was made Leader of the House of Commons and given the task of steering through the government's legislative programme. As Labour soon lost its majority in a string of poor by-election results this required all of Callaghan and Foot's blend of emollience and steely determination.
His time as Prime Minister was dominated by the troubles in running a Government with a minority in the House of Commons. Callaghan was forced to make deals with minor parties in order to survive, including the Lib-Lab Pact. He had been forced to accept referendums on devolution in Scotland and Wales (the first went in favour but did not reach the required majority, and the second went heavily against). However, by the autumn of 1978 most opinion polls were showing Labour ahead and he was expected to call an election. His decision not to has been described as the biggest mistake of his premiership.
(Famously he strung along the opposition and was expected to make his declaration of election in a broadcast in early September 1978. His decision to go on was at the time seen by many as a sign of his domination of the political scene and he ridiculed his opponents by impersonating old-time music hall star Marie Lloyd singing Waiting at the Church at that month's TUC Congress: now seen as one of the greatest moments of hubris in modern British politics but celebrated at the time.)
Callaghan's way 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 complacent 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:
- How do you respond to the mounting chaos that greets your return, Prime Minister?.
- I promise if you look at it from the outside, I don't think other people in the world would share the view that there is mounting chaos.
was claimed by The Sun to justify the attribution to him of the headline:
- Crisis? What Crisis?.
Callaghan was forced to call an election when the House of Commons passed a Motion of No Confidence by one vote on March 28, 1979. With unemployment soaring, the Conservatives, with advertising consultants Saatchi and Saatchi, ran a campaign on the slogan "Labour isn't working." As expected, Margaret Thatcher won the election.
Callaghan resigned as leader of the Labour Party in September 1980, shortly after the 1980 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. In the second round of a campaign that laid bare the deep internal divisions of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Michael Foot beat Denis Healey to succeed Callaghan as leader.
In 1983, Callaghan became Father of the House as the longest continuously serving member of the Commons and one of only two survivors of the 1945 general election (Michael Foot was the other but he had been out of the House from 1955 to 1960). He remained an MP until the 1987 general election when he retired after forty-two years as a member of the Commons. Shortly afterwards, he was elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Callaghan of Cardiff.
In 1988 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 about to expire. Callaghan moved an amendment to the Copyright Bill then under consideration in the Lords to extend it permanently (which is permissible in the UK), and this was accepted by the government.
On 14 February 2005, he became the longest-lived British Prime Minister, surpassing Harold Macmillan, and had the longest life of any British prime minister when he died at his farm in Ringmer, East Sussex on 26 March 2005, on the eve of his 93rd birthday and 11 days after his wife, Audrey, Lady Callaghan of Cardiff. At the time of his death Callaghan had lived 92 years 363 days, exceeding by 41 days the life span of Macmillan. He was survived by a son and two daughters.
|Chancellor of the Exchequer|
Sir Alec Douglas-Home
| Preceded by:|
| Prime Minister|
| Succeeded by:|
| Leader of the Labour Party|
| Succeeded by:|
|Father of the House|