Callaghan was British Labour prime minister from 1976 to 1979, years dominated by economic recession and industrial militancy which contributed to the election of the Conservatives and Labour's exclusion from office for the next 18 years.
Callaghan was born on 27 March 1912 in Portsmouth and began working life for the Inland Revenue at the age of 16. He served in the Royal Navy during World War Two and in 1945 was elected Labour member of parliament for Cardiff South. In 1964, he was chosen by Labour prime minister Harold Wilson to be chancellor of the exchequer. His effectiveness at the Treasury, however, was limited by his resolute refusal to devalue the pound, which left British exports highly uncompetitive, and also by a power struggle with George Brown's Department of Economic Affairs, a new ministry deliberately created by Wilson to limit the power of the treasury. When devaluation became unavoidable in 1967, Callaghan was moved to the home office. Here he adopted an authoritarian and conservative line. He also took the decision to deploy British troops to Northern Ireland in 1969 after sectarian violence in the province.
Callaghan also made a decisive intervention against Barbara Castle's plans for a wages policy in 1969, a move that reinforced his credentials as a staunch ally of the trade unions, but also contributed to the unravelling of Labour's economic strategy in the 1970s. After serving as foreign secretary in 1974-1976, Callaghan succeeded Wilson as prime minister in 1976. He responded to Britain's deepening economic recession by adopting deflationary policies and cuts in public expenditure, which anticipated the monetarism of Margaret Thatcher after 1979.
He succeeded in securing some improvement in the nation's situation, but then committed a tactical error in postponing a general election until the spring of 1979, only to see his government totally discredited by mass industrial militancy during the 1978-1979 'winter of discontent'. He resigned as leader soon after the 1979 election, and later became a life peer. He died on 26 March 2005.
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