James Callaghan

James Callaghan

Last updated: 23 September 2008

James Callaghan was a Cardiff MP for 42 years, and Prime Minister from 1976 to 1979.

Although an Englishman, born in Portsmouth in 1912, James Callaghan held a Cardiff-area seat from 1945 until 1987. He had joined the Labour Party in 1931 and was an active trade unionist, having set up the Inland Revenue Staff Association.

His junior parliamentary career involved work at the Minsitry of Transport and the Admiralty. By the 1950s, he was a constant in the Shadow Cabinet the in 1961 he became shadow chancellor.

On Labour's victory under Harold Wilson in 1964, he became chancellor of the exchequer, but economic circumstances were not conducive at the time for a successful period in that office.

He offered his resignation after the devaluation of the pound, but was persuaded to swap jobs to become home secretary.

As home secretary he oversaw the deployment of United Kingdom soldiers in Northern Ireland.

Labour were defeated at the 1970 election but instead of moving to take over from Harold Wilson, Callaghan remained loyal to his party's leader. He added foreign secretary to his CV in 1974 when Wilson won that year's election.

As foreign secretary he oversaw Britain's entry into the common market then in 1976 he took over from Wilson as prime minister; he was a compromise candidate, but popular with the Labour electorate.

Callaghan was not a left winger in the Labour Party, and as prime minister he was delicate in balancing the make-up of the cabinet.

His government was weakened as by-election results removed Labour's majority in Parliament, relying on deals and coalitions with minor parties, then resulting in the so-called 'Lib-Lab Pact' with the Liberals.

Callaghan decided against calling an election in 1978, which has since been called his greatest mistake. He took a chance on a worsening economic situation improving by 1979, but instead he got the winter of discontent.

A series of strikes, power cuts and cut working hours made his government deeply unpopular, then in March 1979 parliament passed a vote of no confidence by one vote; he was forced to call a general election.

Margaret Thatcher began her 12-year reign as prime minister for the Conservatives, and Callaghan resigned as leader of the party in 1980.

In 1983 he became father of the house as the longest-serving MP, then a knight of the garter in 1987, the same year as he stood down from the House of Commons.

He was made Baron Callaghan of Cardiff, and died the day before his 93rd birthday in 2005.

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