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Leonard James Callaghan, Baron Callaghan of Cardiff, KG, PC (27 March 1912 – 26 March 2005), was a Britishmarker Labour politician, who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1976 to 1979 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1976 to 1980. Commonly known as Jim Callaghan (and nicknamed Sunny Jim, Gentleman Jim, Lucky Jim or Big Jim), Callaghan is the only person to have served in all four of the Great Offices of State: Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary.

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 sterling despite having denied this would be done both publically and to the House of Commonsmarker. 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 use the Army to support the police in Northern Irelandmarker, after a request from the Northern Ireland Government.

The Labour Party lost the general election in 1970, but Callaghan returned to office as Foreign Secretary in March 1974, taking responsibility for renegotiating the terms of the United Kingdom's membership of the European Economic Community (the EEC, or "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 the new Labour leader.

Labour had already lost its majority in the House of Commons when he became Prime Minister and lost further seats at by-elections and through defections, forcing Callaghan to deal with minor parties such as the Liberal Party especially in the Lib-Lab pact from 1977 to 1978, the Ulster Unionists, Scottish National Party and even Independents. Industrial disputes and widespread strikes in the "Winter of Discontent" of 1978–79, made Callaghan's government unpopular and the defeat of the referendum on devolution for Scotland led to the passage of a motion of no confidence on 28 March 1979. This was followed by a defeat by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party in the ensuing general election.

1912 to 1944: Early life and career

James Callaghan was born at 38 Funtington Road, Copnor, Portsmouthmarker, England on 27 March 1912. He was named after his father. James Callaghan senior was a Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer, who died when Callaghan was nine years old in 1921. His mother was called Charlotte Callaghan née Cundy (born 1880). He had an older sister, Dorothy Gertrude Callaghan, (born in 1904). He attended Portsmouthmarker Northern Secondary School (now Mayfield Schoolmarker). 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. Whilst at the Inland Revenue offices in Kent, in 1931 he joined the Maidstonemarker branch of Labour Party. In 1934 he was transferred to Inland Revenue offices in London. Following a merger of unions in 1936, Callaghan was appointed as 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 Economicsmarker. Laski encouraged him to stand for Parliament. 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. Whilst training for his promotion his medical examination revealed that he was suffering from tuberculosis and was admitted to the Royal Naval Hospital Haslarmarker in Gosportmarker near Portsmouthmarker. After he recovered he was discharged and assigned to duties with the Admiralty in Whitehallmarker. 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 Cardiff South. He narrowly won the local party ballot with twelve votes against the next highest candidate George Thomas with eleven votes. He was encouraged to put his name forward for the Cardiff South seat by his friend Dai Kneath, a member of the IRSF National executive from Swanseamarker, who was in turn an associate and friend of the local Labour Party secretary Bill Headon. During 1945 he was assigned to the Indian 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 won with a 6,000 majority over the sitting Conservative incumbent candidate, Sir Arthur Evans, the two in total respectively polling 17,489 to 11,545 votes. He campaigned on such issues as the rapid demobilisation of the armed forces and for a new housing construction programme. 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 Hertfordshiremarker 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 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. 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 didn't trust George Brown.

Chancellor of the Exchequer

In October 1964 Conservative Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home called a general election. It was a tough election but Labour won a small majority gaining 56 seats (a total of 317 to the Conservatives 309). 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 in order 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.

Increasing difficulties with the economy were evident by late November when the surcharge of imports under the previous Conservative government were forcing the reserves to be depleted by as much as £50 million per day. 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 Englandmarker, 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. His second budget came on the 6 April 1965 in which he announced efforts to deflate the economy and reduce home import demand by £250 million. Shortly after 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 Fundmarker (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. 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 the 31 March 1966. On the 1 March Callaghan gave a 'little budget' to the commons and announced the historic decision that the UK would adopt the decimal system. It was actually not until 1971, under a Tory government, that the United Kingdom ended the system of pounds, shillings and pence, and entered 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 after 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 focusing on services rather than manufacturing. Twelve days after the budget the National Union of Seamen called a national strike and the problems facing Sterling were multiplied. Additional strikes caused the balance of payments deficit to increase and the 3.3 billion loan was now due. On 14 July the bank rate was increased again to seven percent. On the 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.

However the economy was soon in turmoil again with the Middle East crisis between Egyptmarker and Israelmarker 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, and 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 Commonsmarker 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 Irelandmarker and it was as Home Secretary that he took the decision to deploy United Kingdom troops in the province after a request from the Ulster Unionist Government of Northern Ireland.

Callaghan was also responsible for the Immigration Act 1968; a controversial piece of legislation prompted by Conservative assertions that an influx of Kenyanmarker Asians would soon inundate the country. It passed through the Commons in a week and placed entry controls on holders of United Kingdom passports who had "no substantial connection" with the United Kingdom 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". 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 the cabinet to Barbara Castle's White Paper "In Place of Strife" which sought to modify Trade Union law. 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.

After 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 and election as Leader of the Labour Party

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 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.

During his second term Wilson announced his surprise resignation on 16 March 1976, and unofficially endorsed Callaghan as his successor. Callaghan was the favourite to win the leadership, 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 the 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.

1976 to 1979: Prime Minister

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.

During his first year in office, Callaghan started what has since become known as 'The Great Debate', when he spoke at Ruskin College, Oxfordmarker 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.

Callaghan's time as Prime Minister was dominated by the troubles in running a Government with a minority in the House of Commonsmarker: he was forced to make deals with minor parties in order to survive - including the Lib-Lab pact, and 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).

James Callaghan at the 1978 TUC sings "Waiting at the Church" to convey that there would be no general election that year.
On television he had a different message: that if he called the election, the Conservatives would not be prepared.
Despite these difficulties, by late 1978, most opinion polls showed Labour ahead, and the expectation grew that Callaghan would call an autumn election. 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 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.

Callaghan's decision not to call an early election has been described as the biggest mistake of his premiership.

'The Winter of Discontent'

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 response to one interview question only made it worse. Returning to the United Kingdom from an economic summit held in Guadeloupemarker in early 1979, Callaghan was asked:

Callaghan replied:

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"

On 28 March 1979, the House of Commons passed a Motion of No Confidence by one vote — 311-310 — which forced Callaghan to call the 1979 general election.

The Conservatives, with the advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi, ran a campaign on the slogan "Labour isn't working". Margaret Thatcher won the election.

Resignation, backbenches and retirement

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 narrowly beat Denis Healey to succeed Callaghan as leader.

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

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 being the other, but he had been out of the House from 1955 to 1960. In 1987 he was made a Knight of the Garter and stood down at the 1987 general election after forty-two years as a member of the Commons. Shortly afterwards, he was elevated to the House of Lordsmarker as Baron Callaghan of Cardiff, of the City of Cardiffmarker in the Royal County of South Glamorganshire. In 1987, his autobiography, Time and Chance, was published.

In 1988, Callaghan's wife Audrey, a former chairman (1969 - 1982) of Great Ormond Street Hospitalmarker, 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 the term under which the hospital could continue to collect royalties despite the lapse of copyright, and this was accepted by the government.

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

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 Ringmermarker, East Sussexmarker on 26 March 2005, on the eve of his 93rd birthday. At the time of his death Callaghan had lived 92 years 364 days, exceeding by 42 days the life span of Macmillan.

Personal life

James 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, in July 1938 and had three children — one son and two daughters. Lady Callaghan died on 15 March 2005. Although there is much doubt about how much belief Callaghan retained into adult life, the Baptist nonconformist ethic was a profound influence on all of his public and private life.

James Callaghan died on 26 March 2005, just 11 days after his wife's death and one day before his 93rd birthday, of lobar pneumonia, cardiac failure, and kidney failure.

One of their daughters, Margaret, became Baroness Jay of Paddington and was Leader of the House of Lordsmarker from 1998 to 2001.

James Callaghan 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."

In 1977 James Callaghan was immortalised in a cartoon strip, debuting in issue # 17 (2 February 1977) of Captain Britain comic, published by Marvel. He is briefed by Nick Fury of a Nazi plan by super villain the Red Skull to take over Great Britain. In issue # 21 (2 March 1977) Callaghan is kidnapped by the baddies and sentenced to death, by firing squad, alongside Captain Britain and Captain America, before making his escape. It is not known what Callaghan's reaction was to his appearance in cartoon form.

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 - 11 June 1987)
  • The Right Honourable Sir James Callaghan, KG (11 June - 5 November 1987)
  • The Right Honourable The Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, KG, PC (5 November 1987 - 26 March 2005)

See also


  1. Page 1, Callaghan: British Prime-Ministers of the 20th Century, Harry Conroy, Haus Publishing 2006
  2. Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) Officers 1939-1945
  3. Page 11, Callaghan: British Prime-Ministers of the 20th Century, Harry Conroy, Haus Publishing 2006
  4. Page 13, Callghan: British Prime-Ministers of the 20th Century, Harry Conroy, Haus Publishing 2006
  5. Page 35, Callaghan: British Prime-Ministers of the 20th Century, Harry Conroy, Haus Publishing 2006
  6. Page 36, Callaghan: British Prime-Ministers of the 20th Century, Harry Conroy, Haus Publishing 2006
  7. Page 38, Callaghan: British Prime Ministers of the 20th Century, Harry Conroy, Haus Publishing 2006
  8. Page 40, Callaghan: British Prime-Ministers of the 20th Century, Harry Conroy, Haus Publishing 2006
  9. BBC ON THIS DAY | 26 | 1968: Race discrimination law tightened
  10. Callaghan's Great Education Debate
  11. pg.377 of The Prime Minister by Peter Hennessy
  12. Guardian | Audrey Callaghan



  • 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.

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