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James Callaghan

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The Rt Hon. James Callaghan
Image:Callaghan.jpg
Period in Office: 5 April, 1976 - 4 May, 1979
PM Predecessor: Harold Wilson
PM Successor: Margaret Thatcher
Date of Birth: 27 March, 1912
Place of Birth: Portsmouth, Hampshire
Political Party: Labour
Retirement honour: Life Barony of Callaghan of Cardiff

Leonard James Callaghan, Baron Callaghan of Cardiff, PC (born 27 March 1912), was Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1976 to 1979.

Callaghan was the son of a Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer of Irish ancestry, who died when he was 9. He had an unspectacular education 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 Labour Party's General Secretary. Laski encouraged him to stand for Parliament. Callaghan served in the Royal Navy Patrol Service in World War II from 1943, but while on leave he was able to get selected as a Parliamentary candidate for Cardiff South East. He won the seat in the 1945 general election.

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 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 Northern Ireland Government.

After Wilson's shock defeat 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.

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.

His time as prime minister was dominated by the troubles in running a Government with no majority 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.

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?.
His response:
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 on March 28, 1979. As expected, Margaret Thatcher won the election. Callaghan resigned as leader of the party eighteen months later, 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 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. His daughter Margaret became Baroness Jay of Paddington and was Leader of the House of Lords from 1998 to 2001.

He remains the only person to have filled the four offices of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, and Prime Minister.

James Callaghan's Cabinet April 1976 - May 1979

Changes

David Owen enters the cabinet as Foreign Secretary after the death of Anthony Crosland.
Preceded by:
Reginald Maudling
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1964-1967
Followed by:
Roy Jenkins
Preceded by:
Roy Jenkins
Home Secretary
1967-1970
Followed by:
Reginald Maudling
Preceded by:
Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Foreign Secretary
1974-1976
Followed by:
Anthony Crosland
Preceded by:
Harold Wilson
Leader of the British Labour Party
1976-1980
Followed by:
Michael Foot
Preceded by:
Harold Wilson
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
1976-1979
Followed by:
Margaret Thatcher