James Callaghan

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A leader must have the courage to act against an expert's advice.

Leonard James Callaghan, Baron Callaghan of Cardiff (27 March 191226 March 2005), commonly known as Jim Callaghan, was a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1976 to 1979 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1976 to 1980. Callaghan is the only person to have held all four Great Offices of State, having served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1964 to 1967, Home Secretary from 1967 to 1970 and Foreign Secretary from 1974 to 1976. He was a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1945 to 1987.


Backbench MP[edit]

  • Never let me hear anyone say again that a Socialist State cannot provide outlets for those with initiative. The rewards given to ability in the U.S.S.R. at all levels are far greater than those given to the employed in capitalist Britain. I have seen it and it works.
    • Reynolds News (17 March 1946)
  • Peace-or-war, not cost-of-living, was the most important issue at the election. He did not believe that peace with Stalin would be easy to achieve. Some delegates seemed to think it was all a matter of “getting together with Joe.” Had they forgotten their Marxism, and its interpretation of history. That was what they were dealing with, not Uncle Joe.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Scarborough (2 October 1951), quoted in The Times (3 October 1951), p. 7
  • There could be no democratic and independent Socialist Party in this country unless they aligned themselves with others against the insidious attempts of Communism to break the Socialist movement.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Morecambe (1 October 1952), quoted in The Times (2 October 1952), p. 2

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer[edit]

  • I have not the slightest doubt that the economic measures and the Socialist measures which one will find in countries of Eastern Europe, will become increasingly powerful against the uncoordinated, planless society in which the West is living at present.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (15 December 1960)
  • We should be aiming in the latter part of the 1960s for a 5 per cent. and then a 6 per cent. growth rate. Only then shall we attain the programme of social expenditure that is both necessary and desirable.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (20 July 1964)

Chancellor of the Exchequer[edit]

  • I hate putting up taxes.
    • Interview on BBC television (20 May 1965)
  • We have had a tremendous battle over the past 12 months. Sterling is safe. That battle is won.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (30 September 1965), quoted in The Times (1 October 1965), p. 16
  • If we achieve our target, 1967 will be a different year from the last two, a year in which we will begin to move forward again, and 1968 to 1970 will be the years of achievement in which the fruit of the work now being done will be shown.
    • Speech to a constituency Labour Party dinner in Swindon (28 January 1966), quoted in The Times (29 January 1966), p. 8
  • I sum up the prospects for 1967 in three short sentences. We are back on course. (Loud Ministerial cheers and Opposition laughter.) The ship is picking up speed. (More Ministerial cheers.) Every seaman knows the command at such a moment: "Steady as she goes". (Laughter and cheers.)
    • Budget speech in the House of Commons (11 April 1967), quoted in The Times (12 April 1967), p. 7
  • Those who advocate devaluation are calling for a reduction in the wage levels and the real wage standards of every member of the working class.
    • "Chancellor stands by three per cent growth and no devaluation", The Times (25 July 1967), p. 13
    • The government was forced to devalue in November 1967.
  • I come to the question of the Governor of the Bank of England, who made [a] speech...[which] was, I thought, a very good exposition of the nature of this country's problems. ... When he came to the question of the rate of wage and price inflation, in which he dealt with the question of unused resources, what he said I agree with. He said: “it is impossible to manage a large industrial economy with the very small margin of unused manpower and resources that characterised the British economy in the 1940s and 1950s.” That is true. ... We must have a somewhat larger margin of unused capacity than we used to try to keep. That is the truth of the matter.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (7 November 1967)

Home Secretary[edit]

  • I think that it came as a surprise, if not a shock, to most people, when that notorious advertisement appeared in The Times in 1967, to find that there is a lobby in favour of legalising cannabis. ... The existence of this lobby is something that the House and public opinion should take into account and be ready to combat, as I am. It is another aspect of the so-called permissive society, and I am glad if my decision has enabled the House to call a halt in the advancing tide of so-called permissiveness. I regard it as one of the most unlikeable words that has been invented in recent years.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (27 January 1969)

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer[edit]

  • Millions of people in Britain must have been very surprised to hear that the language of Chaucer, of Shakespeare and of Milton must in future be regarded as an undesirable American import from which we have to protect ourselves if we are to build a new Europe. We can agree that the French own the supreme prose literature in Europe. But if we are to prove —if we have to prove—our Europeanism by accepting that French is the dominant language in the Community, then my answer is quite clear, and I will say it in French in order to prevent any misunderstanding: Non, merci beaucoup.
    • Speech in Southampton (25 May 1971)
  • [Callaghan] said that President Pompidou had made it clear that where differences existed between Britain and the French-dominated EEC, "Britain must subordinate them to the extent of a complete rupture with our identity". He asked if Mr. Heath's offer to participate in a European spirit, which signified a French spirit, meant that "we are honour bound not to try to upset the principles of the common agricultural policy?" Had Mr. Heath made it clear that no one believed it made sense to give up buying cheap food from New Zealand to buy dear food from France?
    • Speech in Southampton (25 May 1971), quoted in The Times (26 May 1971), p. 5
  • The Treaty of Rome was tailor-made to support French agriculture and German manufactures. It is by no means ideal for Britain's future trading arrangements. It was not designed for this purpose. The question is whether it is worth joining on the terms that are on offer or, as I believe, whether we would do better for ourselves by waiting.
    • Speech to the Cardiff South East Labour Party (23 July 1971), quoted in The Times (24 July 1971), p. 2
  • What would need to be reopened would be the test questions that were put to Mr Heath by M Pompidou and tamely accepted by him. To the question: “Do you agree to work for economic and monetary union?” Mr Heath had said “yes”, but the Labour movement said “no”. To the question: “Will you turn away from the open seas and mould yourself to Europe?” Mr Heath had said “yes” and the Labour movement was saying “no”. A Labour Government will seek to reopen the principles and renegotiate the details, specifically on high food prices which are part of their present policy and a reversal of Britain's food policies for over a century. We intend to have that renegotiated and to return to our traditional freedom to purchase food from other countries outside the EEC without incurring penalty.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Brighton (4 October 1971), quoted in The Times (5 October 1971), p. 6
  • Too much stress is being put on the soldiers and the RUC to solve problems which politicians have failed to solve for so many years. There must be a political solution if the gunmen are to be divided from the rest of the population.
    • Speech in Belfast (11 November 1971), quoted in The Times (12 November 1971), p. 1
  • [D]espite the indignation and horror with which most of us regard the actions of the Provisionals, we must not allow our policy to be dictated by revenge or by passion. If we do, we shall not only behave in an immoral way; we shall lose the battle.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (17 November 1971)

Foreign Secretary[edit]

  • Our place in the world is shrinking: our economic comparisons grow worse, long-term political influence depends on economic strength – and that is running out. The country expects both full employment and an end to inflation. We cannot have both unless people restrain their demands. If the TUC guidelines [on pay] are not observed, we shall end up with wage controls once more and even a breakdown of democracy. Sometimes when I go to bed at night, I think that if I were a young man I would emigrate. But when I wake up in the morning, I ask myself whether there is any place else I would prefer to go.
    • Remarks to a meeting of the Cabinet held at Chequers (17 November 1974), quoted in James Callaghan, Time and Chance (Collins, 1987), p. 326 and Tony Benn, Against the Tide: Diaries 1973-1976 (Hutchinson, 1989), p. 266
  • The power structure in Britain is changing. Authority is no longer obeyed for its own sake. There are severe limits on what government can do, so the way to win the battle against inflation and unemployment is not to try to dragoon the country. If we do we shall fail. We must secure its consent. We are playing for high stakes. In a real sense, adherence to the social contract puts on trial whether our society has the will and determination to solve its problems by democratic means.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in London (27 November 1974), quoted in The Times (28 November 1974), p. 6
  • James Callaghan: ...I am not pro, nor am I anti...
    Robin Day: What are you doing on this programme?
    Callaghan: I'm here because you asked me.
    Day: You're here to advise people to vote 'Yes' aren't you?
    Callaghan: ...I am here, and the Prime Minister has taken the same line; it is our job to advise the British people on what we think is the right result. Now there are a lot of other people who've always been emotionally committed to the Market. A lot of other people have been always totally opposed to the Market. I don't think the Prime Minister or myself have ever been in either category and that is not our position today. I'm trying to present the facts as I see them and why we have come down in favour of – now Britain is in, we should stay in.
    • On Robin Day's phone-in (27 May 1975), quoted in David Butler and Uwe Kitzinger, The 1975 Referendum (Macmillan, 1976), p. 176.
  • First of all, please make sure that you go and vote in the Common Market referendum on Thursday. And secondly, the Government asks you to vote 'Yes', clearly and unmistakeably.
    • Referendum broadcast (2 June 1975).
    • Callaghan had not wanted to appear in a broadcast for 'Britain in Europe', so he was instead introduced as the Foreign Secretary giving a separate broadcast within a 'Britain in Europe' timeslot.
  • But the policies of the 1960s would not be successful today. No more would general import controls.They benefit some home industries at the expense of the livelihood of everyone working in exports. We would be robbing Peter to pay Paul.
    • Speech at Woolwich (30 January 1976)

Prime Minister[edit]

  • You know, as I do, that we face two deep-seated problems, inflation and unemployment. Both of them are still too high. ... I have to emphasize to you that if we fail to bring down inflation, we shall never succeed in overcoming unemployment. We cannot have a prosperous industry in this country if we are unable to sell our goods overseas. No one owes Britain a living, and may I say to you quite bluntly that despite the measures of the last 12 months, we are still not earning the standard of living we are enjoying. We are only keeping up our standards by borrowing, and this cannot go on indefinitely. There is no soft option. I do not promise you any real easement for some time to come. There can be no lasting improvement in your own living standards until we can achieve it without going deeper and deeper into debt as a nation.
    • First television broadcast as Prime Minister (5 April 1976), quoted in The Times (6 April 1976), pp. 1–2
  • For too long, perhaps ever since the war, we postponed facing up to fundamental choices and fundamental changes in our society and in our economy. This is what I mean when I say we have been living on borrowed time. For too long this country – all of us, yes this Conference too – has been ready to settle for borrowing money abroad to maintain our standards of life, instead of grappling with the fundamental problems of British industry. Governments of both parties have failed to ignite the fires of industrial growth in the ways that countries with very different political and economic philosophies have done.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (28 September 1976), quoted in James Callaghan, Time and Chance (Collins, 1987), p. 425
  • The cosy world we were told would go on for ever, where full employment would be guaranteed by a stroke of the Chancellor's pen, cutting taxes, deficit spending – that cosy world is gone. Yesterday, delegates pointed to the first sorry fruits: a high rate of unemployment. ... When we reject unemployment as an economic instrument — as we do — and when we reject also superficial remedies, as socialists must, then we must ask ourselves unflinchingly what is the cause of high unemployment. Quite simply and unequivocally, it is caused by paying ourselves more than the value of what we produce. There are no scapegoats. This is true in a mixed economy under a Labour Government as it is under capitalism or under communism. It is an absolute fact of life which no Government, be it left or right, can alter.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (28 September 1976), quoted in Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1976, p. 188 and James Callaghan, Time and Chance (Collins, 1987), p. 426
  • We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step. Higher inflation followed by higher unemployment. We have just escaped from the highest rate of inflation this country has known; we have not yet escaped from the consequences: high unemployment. That is the history of the last twenty years.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (28 September 1976), quoted in Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1976, p. 188 and James Callaghan, Time and Chance (Collins, 1987), p. 426. This part of his speech was written by his son-in-law, future BBC Economics correspondent Peter Jay
  • Now we must get back to fundamentals. First, overcoming unemployment now unambiguously depends on our labour costs being at least comparable with those of our major competitors. Second, we can only become competitive by having the right kind of investment at the right kind of level, and by significantly improving the productivity of both labour and capital. Third, we will fail – and I say this to those who have been pressing about public expenditure, to which I will come back – if we think we can buy our way out by printing what Denis Healey calls ‘confetti money’ to pay ourselves more than we produce.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (28 September 1976), quoted in James Callaghan, Time and Chance (Collins, 1987), p. 427
  • If we were to fail, I do not think any Government could succeed. I feel it would lead to a totalitarian government of the left or the right.
    • On BBC TV (30 September 1976), quoted in The Times (1 October 1976), p. 1
  • I think there is a case for opening a national debate on these matters.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (14 October 1976), referring to education policy. The phrase "national debate on education" is associated with Callaghan's speech at Ruskin College on 18 October 1976 but appears nowhere in the text; it was however used extensively in pre-briefing for the contents of the speech.
  • I have been concerned to find out that many of our best trained students who have completed the higher levels of education at university or polytechnic have no desire to join industry. Their preferences are to stay in academic life or to find their way into the civil service. There seems to be a need for more technological bias in science teaching that will lead towards practical applications in industry rather than towards academic studies. Or, to take other examples, why is it that such a high proportion of girls abandon science before leaving school? ... Why is it that 30,000 vacancies for students in science and engineering in our universities and polytechnics were not taken up last year while the humanities courses were full?
    • Speech to Ruskin College, Oxford University (18 October 1976)
  • [T]here is the unease felt by parent and others about the new informal methods of teaching which seem to produce excellent results when they are in well-qualified hands but are much more dubious when they are not. They seem to be best accepted where strong parent-teacher links exist. There is little wrong with the range and diversity of our courses. But is there sufficient thoroughness and depth in those required in after life to make a living? These are proper subjects for discussion and debate. And it should be a rational debate based on the facts. My remarks are not a clarion call to Black Paper prejudices. We all know those who claim to defend standards but who in reality are simply seeking to defend old privileges and inequalities.
    • Speech to Ruskin College, Oxford University (18 October 1976)
  • The goals of our education, from nursery school through to adult education, are clear enough. They are to equip children to the best of their ability for a lively, constructive, place in society, and also to fit them to do a job of work. Not one or the other but both. ... There is no virtue in producing socially well-adjusted members of society who are unemployed because they do not have the skills. Nor at the other extreme must they be technically efficient robots. Both of the basic purposes of education require the same essential tools. These are basic literacy, basic numeracy, the understanding of how to live and work together, respect for others, respect for the individual. This means requiring certain basic knowledge, and skills and reasoning ability. It means developing lively inquiring minds and an appetite for further knowledge that will last a lifetime. It means mitigating as far as possible the disadvantages that may be suffered through poor home conditions or physical or mental handicap. Are we aiming in the right direction in these matters?
    • Speech to Ruskin College, Oxford University (18 October 1976)
  • It is quite clear from what has been said and written that, time after time after time, there has been a conspiracy between the Conservative Front Bench in this House and the inbuilt Conservative majority in the House of Lords to defeat legislation that has passed through the House of Commons...I warn the House of Lords of the consequences...it is our strong view that the House of Lords should recall that its role is not that of a wrecking chamber, but of a revising chamber. In recent weeks, it has been wrecking legislation passed by this House.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (9 November 1976)
  • [Callaghan] said the most hateful slogan that he had heard recently, made at a protest march, was "What do we want? Everything! When do we want it? Now!" That was not socialism but fascism. There are too many of these people who have infiltrated this party already. Get them out!
    • Replying to a question at the annual constituency dinner of the Leeds East Labour Party (3 December 1976), quoted in The Times (6 December 1976), p. 1
  • A canting hypocrite.
    • On Tony Benn (16 December 1976), quoted in Bernard Donoughue, Downing Street Diary, Volume Two: With James Callaghan in No. 10 (2008), p. 122
  • The PM [Callaghan] said he is 'a supporter of Brazil'. Wants immigrants to marry UK natives, 'decent white Britons', and let us have a coffee-coloured community, but one single community, not this inflow of different cultures into a so-called 'multicultural society'.
    • Remarks to the committee on immigration (22 February 1977), quoted in Bernard Donoughue, Downing Street Diary, Volume Two: With James Callaghan in No. 10 (2008), p. 152
  • [The first task is to beat inflation.] Until we do, every wage rise which is not met from higher production is a ticket to the dole queue. That is why it is important to reach a renewed understanding with the trade union movement for the next 12 months, an arrangement which will break decisively from the inflationary spiral that has plagued us.
    • Speech to the all-Wales rally of the Labour Party (2 July 1977), quoted in The Times (4 July 1977), p. 2
  • [There are those in the Labour Party] whose language has become increasingly ideological and intolerant, base their politics solely on texts and creeds, and believe that the drafting of long resolutions will usher in the millennium.
    • Speech to the all-Wales rally of the Labour Party (2 July 1977), quoted in The Times (4 July 1977), p. 2
  • [Callaghan] said the Labour Party was not built on dogma and advised his comrades to look at some of the old trade union banners. They would not read ideological texts there, but words like "fraternity, humanity, unity and comradeship".
    • Speech to the all-Wales rally of the Labour Party (2 July 1977), quoted in The Times (4 July 1977), p. 2
  • The dangers which some have seen of an over-centralised, over-bureaucratized and over-harmonised [European] Community will be far less with 12 member states than with nine.
    • Letter to Ronald Hayward, General Secretary of the Labour Party (30 September 1977), quoted in The Times (1 October 1977), p. 3
  • We are opposed to racialism, we are opposed to discrimination. The Labour Party will do all in its power to ensure that all our citizens, irrespective of race or creed, enjoy equality of opportunity and equality of protection under the law. On this we cannot compromise. Inflation and unemployment have always been exploited by extremists. Groups who can be easily identified have always been vulnerable at such times. The Jews in the 1930s have been replaced by the black people in the 1970s. But history tells us that the persecution of the minority is only the first step. That is followed by attacks on trade unions, on the press, on free speech and so on to democracy itself. Let no one be in any doubt about the true nature of those who wrap their poisonous doctrines in our national flag.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Brighton (4 October 1977), quoted in The Times (5 October 1977), p. 6
  • Meantime I say to both sides of industry, 'Please don't support us with general expressions of good will and kind words, and then undermine us through unjustified wage increases or price increases. Either back us or sack us.'
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Brighton (5 October 1977), quoted in Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1977, p. 217
  • What I know is that this country will be a divided society that will not be worth living in unless there is true racial equality for every citizen who lives in it.
    • Speech to the local government conference in Bristol (28 January 1978), quoted in The Times (30 January 1978), p. 3
  • 5 per cent it is, and I have told the unions that they have all the weapons. We are naked in their presence and we need their co-operation.
    • Remarks to the Cabinet on official pay policy (20 July 1978), quoted in Tony Benn, Conflicts of Interest: Diaries 1977–80 (1990), p. 326
  • The commentators have fixed the month for me, they have chosen the date and the day. But I advise them: "Don't count your chickens before they are hatched." Remember what happened to Marie Lloyd. She fixed the day and the date, and she told us what happened. As far as I remember it went like this: 'There was I, waiting at the church–' (laughter). Perhaps you recall how it went on. 'All at once he sent me round a note. Here's the very note. This is what he wrote: "Can't get away to marry you today, my wife won't let me."' Now let me just make clear that I have promised nobody that I shall be at the altar in October? Nobody at all.
    • Speech to the Trades Unions Congress (5 September 1978), quoted in "Mr Callaghan renews plea for 5% pay guideline", The Times (6 September 1978), p. 4
    • Callaghan was teasing the audience about the date for the impending general election. Although his message was intended to convey that he may not call an election in October, many people interpreted him as saying that the opposition would be caught unprepared by an October election.
    • Callaghan deliberately misattributed the music hall song "Waiting at the Church" to Marie Lloyd rather than to its real singer, Vesta Victoria, knowing that Vesta Victoria was too obscure for the audience to recognise.
  • Well, that's a judgment that you are making. I promise you that if you look at it from outside, and perhaps you're taking rather a parochial view at the moment, I don't think that other people in the world would share the view that there is mounting chaos.
    • Response to Evening Standard reporter's question "What is your general approach, in view of the mounting chaos in the country at the moment?" (10 January 1979); used to justify The Sun headline "Crisis? What Crisis?" on 11 January.
  • Jim said he was more depressed as a trade-unionist now about the future of this country than he had been for fifty years. He never believed it would come to this.
    • Remarks to the Cabinet recorded in Tony Benn's diary (1 February 1979), quoted in Tony Benn, Conflicts of Interest: Diaries 1977–80 (1990), p. 450
  • We can truly say that once the Leader of the Opposition had discovered what the Liberals and the SNP were going to do, she found the courage of their convictions. So, this evening, the Conservative Party, who want the Act repealed and oppose even devolution, will march through the Lobby with the SNP, who want independence for Scotland, and with the Liberals, who want to keep the Act. What a massive display of unsullied principle! The minority parties have walked into a trap. If they win, there will be a general election. I am told that the current joke going round the House is that it is the first time in recorded history that turkeys have been known to vote for an early Christmas.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (28 March 1979). In the No confidence debate which brought his government down on 28 March 1979, Callaghan poked fun at the opposition parties and drew attention to their low showing in opinion polls. In the event the Scottish National Party lost 9 of its 11 seats
  • Now that the House of Commons has declared itself, we shall take our case to the country.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (28 March 1979). Following the announcement that the government had lost by 1 vote, Callaghan declared his intention to call a general election
  • David Rose (ITN reporter): Industrial relations and picketing. What about the TUC putting its house in order?
    James Callaghan: The media's always trying to find what's wrong with something .. Let's try and make it work.
    Rose: What if the unions can't control their own militants? So there are no circumstances where you would legislate?
    Callaghan: I didn't say anything of that sort at all. I'm not going to take the interview any further. Look here. We've been having five minutes on industrial relations. You said you would do prices. I'm just not going to do this .. that programme is not to go. This interview with you is only doing industrial relations. I'm not doing the interview with you on that basis. I'm not going to do it. Don't argue with me. I'm not going to do it.
    • Interview (2 May 1979), quoted in Michael Pilsworth, "Balanced Broadcasting", in David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh, The British General Election of 1979 (Macmillan, 1980), pp. 207-208.
    • Callaghan objects to the line of questioning of ITN's David Rose in an interview recorded on 2 May 1979. He was eventually persuaded to return and recorded a new interview, but owing to an agreement with NBC TV that they should have access to all material recorded by ITN, it was shown in the USA and then reported in the Daily Telegraph.
  • There are times, perhaps once every thirty years, when there is a sea-change in politics. It then does not matter what you say or what you do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of. I suspect there is now such a sea-change and it is for Mrs. Thatcher.
    • On the general election of 1979, quoted in Kenneth Morgan, Callaghan: A Life (1997), p. 697

Post-Prime Ministerial[edit]

  • I'll tell you what happened. We lost the Election because people didn't get their dustbins emptied, because commuters were angry about train disruption and because of too much union power. That's all there is to it.
    • Remarks to Tony Benn (9 May 1979), quoted in Tony Benn, Conflicts of Interest: Diaries 1977–80 (1990), p. 499
  • [E]very­thing that we say and do shall be directed towards achieving a basis of unity and a basis of unity that will develop the thrust that is required to rid our country of a reactionary, hard-faced and incompetent Government, headed by the most self-opinionated Prime Minister since Neville Chamberlain.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (30 September 1980), quoted in Report of the ... Annual Conference of the Labour Party (1980), p. 62
  • Many of you younger delegates are experiencing for the first time and seeing for the first time what we grew up with in the Thirties, what brought us into the Labour Movement and what, inciden­tally, will mean that we shall die in the Labour Movement and will never leave the Labour Movement. (Applause) However bad a socialist I may be in the eyes of a great many of our col­leagues, I know why I and many others of my generation were bound to be in the Labour Party. We were determined that the Thirties should not be seen in our lifetime. And...as I see the conditions being repeated once again, the policies being followed once more that we thought we had destroyed forever as the result of the 1930s, I cannot but feel a deep indignation and anger that this generation should be required to go through the things that our generation went through. And I am determined to fight it as hard as I can. (Applause)
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (30 September 1980), quoted in Report of the ... Annual Conference of the Labour Party (1980), p. 63
  • I do not want it to be thought that I believe the constitution is unchangeable or is perfect. It is not. We are an evolving Party. We can change it. But changes have got to be made against a different atmosphere from the present one. We have got to get away from this. For pity's sake, stop arguing. The public is crying out for unity in order to get rid of the Thatcher Govern­ment. (Applause)
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (30 September 1980), quoted in Report of the ... Annual Conference of the Labour Party (1980), p. 67
  • Unilateral disarmament by Britain is opposed to our country's best interests, could begin the unravelling of NATO and therefore jeopardise the stability of Europe.
    • The Guardian (19 November 1982)
  • For 338 paragraphs the Franks report painted a splendid picture, delineated the light and the shade, and the glowing colours in it, and when Franks got to paragraph 339 he got fed up with the canvas he was painting and chucked a bucket of whitewash over it.
  • The Soviet Union's propaganda clearly wishes to use public opinion in this country to get the West to reduce its own arms while doing nothing themselves. In this way they would gain nuclear superiority. This is simply not on.
    • Speech at Cardiff (25 May 1983), quoted in Tim Jones, "Callaghan defends deterrent", The Times (26 May 1983), p. 1. This was during the 1983 general election in which the Labour Party had a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament.
  • A leader must have the courage to act against an expert's advice.
    • The Harvard Business Review (1 November 1986)
  • A leader has to appear consistent. That doesn't mean he has to be consistent.
    • The Harvard Business Review (1 November 1986)
  • When I was young, we didn't discuss abortion or homosexuality. What I think most people feel is that we don't want all these particular areas to be aggressive when there is a feeling of tolerance of them which is generally understood and accepted. But if they become aggressive in minority interests...that is something I feel many people – and certainly I myself – recoil from. ... [The] nuclear family is the most loving you can have.
    • Interview with Brian Walden (17 April 1987), quoted in The Times (18 April 1987), p. 1 and The Times (20 April 1987), p. 13


  • A lie can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.
    • Though widely quoted from his speech in the House of Commons, (1 November 1976) published in Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 918, col. 976.; this is actually a very old paraphrase of a statement of the 19th century minister Charles Spurgeon: "A lie travels round the world while truth is putting on her boots." Even in the paraphrased form Callaghan used, it was in widely familiar, many years prior to his use of it, and is evidenced to have been published in that form at least as early as 1939.

Quotes about Callaghan[edit]

  • He was very emotional, and he said to us "a lot of you are very clever people; you've had university education which I never had, and you would have made a success of whatever walk of life you had gone into. But always remember that it was the Labour Party which put you where you are." Even some of us who had no time for him before the election found it very moving.
    • Alistair Michie and Simon Hoggart, The Pact: The inside story of the Lib-Lab government, 1977-8 (1978), p. 93
    • Un-named left-wing Labour MP, who was not a supporter, describing a meeting with Callaghan shortly after he became Prime Minister in 1976.
  • [I]t would be foolish to underestimate the Baldwin-like appeal possessed by James Callaghan. The very Conservatism of the Prime Minister—in the content and style of his government—will make him a formidable opponent for the Tory party.
    • John Biffen, 'The Conservatism of Labour', in Maurice Cowling (ed.), Conservative Essays (1978), p. 164
  • I think Jim Callaghan is a wonderful political personality, easily the most accomplished politician in the Labour Party, and I think he is quite able as well.
    • Richard Crossman's diary entry (5 September 1969), quoted in Richard Crossman, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, Volume III: Secretary of State for Social Services, 1968–70 (1977), pp. 627–628
  • He likes the Ulster Unionists – much more than the Liberals – because they are his kind of straight, tough old-fashioned conservative people.
    • Bernard Donoughue, diary entry (21 March 1977), quoted in Bernard Donoughue, Downing Street Diary, Volume Two: With James Callaghan in No. 10 (2008), p. 167
  • [H]e of all people is the best man to oppose Thatcher – the calm bedside manner beside the raucous authoritarian figure. Also the best man to handle unemployment and make it an issue which really wins for Labour. JC really cares about unemployment, not in a soft bleeding way...but is affronted by it... Jim cares more about the party, or rather the movement, than Wilson. Wilson was an academic, Callaghan a trade unionist. Their origins are very important. Wilson ultimately got fed up with the party because it became too much of a problem to control it. Callaghan never really has. Wilson was not at heart a trade-union man, Callaghan is totally a trade-union man or he is nothing.
    • Bernard Donoughue, remarks to Hugo Young (3 September 1980), quoted in Hugo Young, The Hugo Young Papers: Thirty Years of British Politics – Off the Record, ed. Ion Trewin (2008), pp. 152-153
  • Watching James Callaghan over the coming months and years, I observed a very commendable man, quite different in style and character from Harold Wilson... Most different from the previous regime was his strong sense of values – really like those of a nonconformist Victorian, with deep feelings of responsibility towards the underprivileged and a strong sense of right and wrong (where Harold was often ambivalent).
  • The most hopeful sign I have seen in Britain was the talk which your Labour prime minister gave to the Labour conference at the end of September [1976]. That was, I think, one of the most remarkable talks – speeches – which any government leader has ever given.
    • Milton Friedman on The Money Programme (10 December 1976), quoted in Andy Beckett, When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies (2010), p. 336
  • In my opinion, Jim Callaghan was, for most of his time, the best of Britain's post-war prime ministers after Attlee. ... Once Prime Minister, he had no ambition except to serve his country well. The political skills he had perfected in his unregenerate days were now just what his office needed. Without them the Government would never have survived the negotiations with the IMF, or preserved its fragile hold on Parliament.
    • Denis Healey, The Time of My Life (1989; 1990), pp. 447–448
  • Jim Callaghan was and always will be a rather gnarled tree with huge, sturdy roots, a magnificent piece of political foliage which, in its prime ministerial flowering (except for those last dreadful months), was rather glorious to behold. We can safely say that we shall not see his like again. For the Labour movement – and the Britain – that made him is no more.
    • Peter Hennessy, The Prime Minister: The Office and its Holders since 1945 (2000), p. 395
  • The Keeper of the Cloth Cap.
    • Peter Jenkins on Callaghan's support for the trade unions after his veto of In Place of Strife, quoted in Peter Jenkins, The Battle of Downing Street (1970), p. 75
  • There is nobody in politics I can remember and no case I can think of in history where a man combined such a powerful political personality with so little intelligence.
    • Roy Jenkins, remark to Richard Crossman (5 September 1969), quoted in Richard Crossman, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, Volume III: Secretary of State for Social Services, 1968–70 (1977), p. 627
  • One point seems to me of enormous importance, and it is this. Mr Callaghan is now giving a splendid imitation of the common man's Stanley Baldwin. He is appearing as stability and common sense in person.
  • To see Callaghan on the move in Cardiff, subtly adapting his approach as he ambles on from proletarian Splott through the mixed residential population of Llanrumney and on to the genteel villadom of Penarth, taking in myriad ethnic minorities in the old dockside communities en route, is to see a master craftsman at work, his technique tempered by a genuine humanity and directness.
    • Kenneth O. Morgan, Labour People: Leaders and Lieutenants, Hardie to Kinnock (1987), p. 266
  • Jim is a populist. He is conscious of this, welcomes the description. This means that on many issues he is well to the right of me. But nevertheless he is a man for the moment. He has produced stability, a stable style and stable government. What he believes in is the regeneration of industry. He likes the company of businessmen, feels at home with them, shares most of the same attitudes. He likes them almost as much as he likes the Labour Party. What he cannot abide is the long-haired intellectual and all his works.
    • Bill Rodgers, remarks to Hugo Young (c. 1978), quoted in Hugo Young, The Hugo Young Papers: Thirty Years of British Politics – Off the Record, ed. Ion Trewin (2008), p. 128
  • Jim Callaghan was a formidable opponent, one who could best me across the dispatch box. In other circumstances he would have been a successful prime minister. He was a superb party manager. Despite our disagreements, I always respected him because I knew he was moved by deep patriotism.
  • Jim has never been pro-Europe. He is an English nationalist and a party man. He saw renegotiation as a way of keeping the Labour Party together... He has become, despite himself, a strong advocate that the renegotiation must succeed... Jim played it absolutely straight, and I admire him for that.
    • Shirley Williams, remarks to Hugo Young (12 July 1974), quoted in Hugo Young, The Hugo Young Papers: Thirty Years of British Politics – Off the Record, ed. Ion Trewin (2008), pp. 41-42

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