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) was a UK politician; Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1976–1979)


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)
  • 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.

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 at Southampton (25 May 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.
    • Remark at a Chequers meeting during the winter of 1974, quoted in James Callaghan, Time and Chance (London: Collins, 1987), p. 326
  • 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 (London: 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
  • 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.
    • Speech at the Labour Party Conference (28 September 1976), quoted in Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1976, p. 188. This part of his speech was written by his son-in-law, future BBC Economics correspondent Peter Jay
  • 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.
    • Speech at the Labour Party Conference (28 September 1976), quoted in Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1976, p. 188
  • 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.
    • Statement 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.
  • 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
  • The dangers which some have seen of an over-centralised, over-bureaucratized and over-harmonised 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
  • 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.
  • 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]

  • 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 (Quarter Books, London, 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.
  • 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 (Penguin, 1990), pp. 447–448
  • 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.

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