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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 October 2007, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
First 100 days: James Callaghan
James Callaghan entered Downing Street at the height of an economic crisis, with inflation running at 14% and the country facing bankruptcy.

JAMES CALLAGHAN
James Callaghan
Elected leader: April 1976
Age when elected: 62
Defeated rivals: Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Tony Crosland

By the end of the year, his chancellor, Denis Healey, would have gone cap-in-hand to the International Monetary Fund for a rescue loan, at the cost of big public spending cuts.

But for the first 100 days of his premiership at least, voters appeared willing to give "Sunny Jim," as Mr Callaghan was dubbed by the press, the benefit of the doubt.

He was seen as a calming influence in troubled times, a more straightforward and frank character than his predecessor, Harold Wilson.

And his background in trade unionism was seen as a major bonus at a time when the union barons held so many of the economic cards.

Majority

Mr Callaghan's government was expected to be a short-lived one.

Mr Callaghan is proving a firm, plain speaking prime minister, who has established more confidence among the Cabinet, the parliamentary party, the top of the trade union movement than for many a day
The Times

He had taken on the top job after a bitter leadership contest triggered by Mr Wilson's surprise resignation and had the unenviable task of holding the warring factions together.

To make matters worse, Labour's minuscule majority was wiped out within days of his arrival in Downing Street, following the death of one Labour MP and the resignation of another.

Yet, for all his troubles, Mr Callaghan was still seen as the most likely victor if it came to an electoral contest with Tory leader Margaret Thatcher, who was still an unknown quantity for many voters.

Throughout the blazing hot summer of 1976, the newspapers were full of speculation about a snap election.

"The conventional view is that the Conservatives are a weak opposition and that they would be unlikely to win a general election either now or later," The Times wrote in an editorial.

"This view is to some extent supported by the most recent Gallup poll which showed that the Labour and Conservative parties were level and that the prime minister was a good deal more highly regarded than Mrs Thatcher."

'Intrigue'

But, the editorial went on to note, with some prescience, that there was "no great enthusiasm for the government among its own supporters in the country," who had been on the receiving end of their wages squeeze and rising prices.

A few days earlier, in an article to mark Mr Callaghan's first 100 days, Times writer Geoffrey Smith praised the new prime minister's "calm strength" - but also wondered if the warm reception he had received was "too good to be true".

Labour's left and right were united in praise for Mr Callaghan, wrote Mr Smith, and "there is not the air of intrigue and suspicion that used to haunt the Cabinet room" under Mr Wilson.

But, he added, "much of the approval is a reaction from the Wilson years; once people forget to make that comparison a few of Mr Callaghan's human blemishes may appear."

Nevertheless, he concluded: "Mr Callaghan is proving a firm, plain speaking prime minister, who has established more confidence among the Cabinet, the parliamentary party, the top of the trade union movement than for many a day."

What happened next: James Callaghan lost the 1979 general election to Conservative Margaret Thatcher and stood down as an MP in 1987. He died, aged 92, in 2005.



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