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Obituary: Lord Callaghan
Lord Callaghan
Lord Callaghan died at home, on the eve of his 93rd birthday
James Callaghan was the only prime minister to come to the premiership after holding the other three great offices of state - chancellor of the exchequer, home secretary and foreign secretary.

He came with a long and thorough experience of Parliament, the Labour Party and the trade unions. And yet it was the unions, that he had worked with, supported and understood, which perhaps most contributed to his fall.

Leonard James (Jim) Callaghan was born and brought up in poor circumstances in Portsmouth, the son of a naval chief petty officer of Irish descent. Leaving secondary school at 16, he became a tax clerk before serving in the Royal Navy.

Elected for a Cardiff constituency at the 1945 general election, Callaghan would represent Cardiff seats for more than 40 years.

Devaluation challenge

After serving as a junior minister in the Attlee government, he became chancellor of the exchequer when Labour returned to power in 1964.

With sterling under pressure, he resisted devaluation for three years, before being forced into it in 1967.

A young Jim Callaghan in naval uniform
The young Jim Callaghan served in The Royal Navy
Swapping jobs with Roy Jenkins at the Home Office, he coped firmly with domestic events, while putting the troops into Northern Ireland to protect the minority community.

As foreign secretary after 1974, he oversaw the re-negotiation of the terms of Britain's membership of the EEC.

When Harold Wilson resigned as Labour leader and prime minister in 1976, Jim Callaghan took over, beating Michael Foot in a ballot of MPs.

But continuing problems of inflation, wage restraint and pressure on the pound, soon led to spending cuts at the behest of the International Monetary Fund.

"Winter of discontent"

Abroad, he established good relations with US President Jimmy Carter and German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

At home, he cut a reassuring figure, even though his incomes policy disintegrated, the Bill to introduce devolution divided the Labour Party, and the government's majority became wafer-thin.

A pact with David Steel's Liberals kept him in power for another 18 months. But when he addressed the Trades Union Congress, in the autumn of 1978, he was expected to signal an election. He did not.

This decision surprised many, and the winter that followed the rejection of the government's 5% wage norm was one of industrial trouble, walkouts, undermanned hospitals and even unburied bodies.

Jim Callaghan enters No.10 in 1976
Jim Callaghan entered Number Ten as prime minister in 1976
In the midst of this "winter of discontent" of 1978-79, Callaghan returned from a summit on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and gave some an impression of complacency when he denied there was mounting chaos.

"Crisis? What crisis?" said the Sun headlines next day. Before long, the government was in a parliamentary crisis, when the Scottish Nationalists and other minor parties deserted Labour over devolution.

In a vote of confidence, Labour lost by one vote, the first time this had happened in 50 years. In the excited parliamentary atmosphere that followed, Callaghan acknowledged that the government's time had run out.

Father of the House

After losing the 1979 general election to Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives, he remained as Labour leader for another year, before handing over to Michael Foot.

As Father of the House, he irritated some colleagues by his forthright support for nuclear weapons.

When he retired in 1987, Jim Callaghan was made a life peer and Knight of the Garter.

Rubbish piles up during the "winter of discontent"
The Winter of Discontent marred Callaghan's premiership
More recently, his daughter Margaret, Baroness Jay, was, as Labour leader of the House of Lords, at the forefront of the legislative campaign to reform the Upper House and end the rights of hereditary peers.

Some political diarists have depicted Jim Callaghan as an over-cautious pessimist.

His supporters saw him as "Sunny Jim", a man of optimism and authority who spoke straightforward common-sense based on a lifetime of hard-learned experience.

His bonhomie, patriotism and the simplicity of his tastes made him always more popular than his party. But in the end he was a victim of events, of time and chance, against which, as prime minister, he constantly struggled.

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