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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 19:30 GMT 20:30 UK
Blair hosts Callaghan party
Lord Callaghan and Tony Blair
Tony Blair greets Lord Callaghan for his birthday party
Tony Blair is hosting a 90th birthday party at 10 Downing Street for former Labour prime minister Jim Callaghan.

Lord Callaghan was joined by family, friends and old colleagues such as former Labour leader Michael Foot at the prestigious reception on Wednesday.

If only I had had a majority - that ought to have been my theme song - I would have done a number of things

Lord Callaghan
Conservative ex-premier Sir Edward Heath is another of the senior figures from the political landscape on the guest list.

Also expected at the party were Lord Callaghan's chancellor Lord Healey and his foreign and education secretaries Lord Owen and Baroness Williams.

Lord Callaghan took over at Number 10 from Harold Wilson in 1976.

His term as prime minister were difficult years including what became known as the 'Winter of Discontent,' a period blighted by strikes and power cuts.

In March, Lord Callaghan - who was nicknamed 'Sunny Jim' - had a big party to celebrate his birthday with his family.

Then he said it was his introduction of cats' eyes to Britain's roads which was one of his proudest accomplishments.

Cat fight

"I had a great battle to get them introduced," he said.

"The Road Research Laboratory wanted them, but there were officials in the Ministry of Transport who did not," he said.

"I remember one particular official telling me: 'If you decide to have cats' eyes, people will drive in the middle of the road when there is fog and there will be inevitable collisions'."

The peer recalled, with a twinkle in his eye, the memory of when he was a junior transport minister shortly after the war, adding: "I managed to persuade them ..."

Lord Callaghan said he envies the huge Commons majority commanded by Tony Blair.

Lord Callaghan
Lord Callaghan arriving at his 90th birthday party in Downing Street

"If only I had had a majority - that ought to have been my theme song - I would have done a number of things."

But he added: "That's all past and done."

His brief premiership came to an end when he succumbed to a vote of no confidence and then lost the subsequent general election in 1979.


The politician, who has also been chancellor of the exchequer, home secretary and foreign secretary, is kindly towards his successor Baroness Thatcher who has withdrawn from public life following minor strokes.

"I hope she will be all right," he says, although her name is absent from the list of guests invited to the Downing Street party.

On Mr Blair, Lord Callaghan says: "I think he has made a great success - our dashing prime minister.

"It would be foolish to attempt to deny that. He has had a great victory and I wish I had had a majority - that would have made a lot of things easier."

Lord Callaghan relaxes on a park bench
Lord Callaghan relaxes on a park bench

But Lord Callaghan, who lives on a farm near Lewes, East Sussex, warns that the Tories could rise again from their two election defeats.

"The pendulum swings and it will swing again," he said.

Apart from a "bit of arthritis" the peer describes himself as fit and well, although he suffered a minor stroke over a year ago that has affected the sight in his left eye.

"I was lucky it did not go to the brain," he said.

He is proud to have been a professional politician.

Time to ponder

"It was a life of service. I have enjoyed it and I am very sorry that today politicians now stand in such low regard.

"I was very lucky in many ways, by being in the right place at the right time. I feel very blessed.

"It is nearly 25 years since I was prime minister. I have had a long time to think. I have been able to learn a lot in that time. One goes on learning.

"I think about things more. I wish I had thought about them earlier.

"I don't focus on the immediate short term any more. As you grow older you reflect more about the long term."

See also:

22 Feb 00 | Labour centenary
James Callaghan: Success and setbacks
11 Mar 99 | UK Politics
Don't mention the past
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