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James Callaghan

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

The Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
Period in Office:5 April, 1976 - May 4, 1979
PM Predecessor:Harold Wilson
PM Successor:Margaret Thatcher
Date of Birth:27 March, 1912
Place of Birth:Portsmouth, Hampshire
Political Party:Labour

James (Jim) Callaghan was an old-style socialist, who had no formal higher education, and who served as MP for Cardiff South and Penarth from 1945 to 1987. 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 was 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.

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 see no sign of mounting chaos
was claimed by The Sun to justify the attribution to him of the headline:
Crisis? What Crisis?.

Callaghan resigned as leader of the party eighteen months later, on the occasion of the 1980 party conference. 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 1983 Callaghan had inherited the title of Father of the House, becoming the longest-serving member of the Commons.

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 SDP. Many commentators hold the view that this struggle was inevitable and even blame Callaghan for not resigning earlier. Callaghan's admirers 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.

He is the father of Baroness Jay of Paddington.

Preceded by:
Harold Wilson
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Followed by:
Margaret Thatcher