James Callaghan

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The Right Hon. James Callaghan
Prime Minister 5 April 1976 - 4 May 1979
Political Party Labour Party
Born 27 March 1912
Portsmouth, England
Died 26 March 2005
Ringmer, East Sussex

Leonard James Callaghan, Baron Callaghan of Cardiff, KG, PC (27 March 1912 - 26 March 2005) was prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1976 to 1979, and elected leader of the British Labour Party from 1976 to 1980.


James (Jim) Callaghan was perceived as an 'old-style' socialist, who had no formal higher education, and who served as MP for Cardiff North. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of the devaluation of the pound in 1967 and resigned this office in the aftermath. Having been appointed Home Secretary, 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.

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. He was never expected to reach the latter position, having taken a back seat to the younger and more charismatic Harold Wilson for many years. However, when Wilson unexpectedly announced his retirement in 1976, Callaghan was the most experienced candidate to replace him. His time as prime minister was one of more open government, but the public were dissatisfied with his relaxed response to high inflation and the increasing industrial unrest (culminating in the Winter of Discontent) and replaced Labour with a Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher.

Callaghan resigned as leader of the party eighteen months later, on the occasion of the 1980 party conference. He remained an MP for some years before being elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Callaghan of Cardiff.

Callaghan's resignation as party leader ignited a power struggle between the left and right wings of the party which eventually resulted in the defection of the Gang of Four to found the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Many commentators hold the view that this struggle was inevitable and even blame Callaghan for not resigning earlier. Callaghan's supporters maintain that had he remained as party leader his position would have been respected by both sides and that by avoiding a split in the non conservative vote he could have restored the Labour Party to Government by the mid-1980s. This disagreement is illuminated by the fact the Callaghan's successor Michael Foot, a compromise candidate from the left of the party, was unable to prevent Tony Benn from challenging his right wing deputy Denis Healey. James Callaghan died on 26 March 2005, one day before his 93rd birthday, of cardiac failure, lobar pneumonia, and kidney failure.

Callaghan is the father of Baroness Jay of Paddington.