He was chancellor of the exchequer, home secretary and foreign secretary before becoming Labour's last prime minister in 1976, and argues there is nothing new in Labour's tough line on crime. As Tony Blair is credited with turning the tables on the Tories with his sound-bite "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime," Lord Callaghan's attack could be taken as a rare swipe against the new leader.
But he tells the New Statesman: "I listened to what our people in the cities and housing estates were having to put up with. I remember Eric Heffer, who was on the left of the party, exploding with anger when anyone suggested we ought to be soft on these matters. I was seen as being on the right of the party, so we formed an odd alliance.
"There are a number of myths about the way we behaved which have been promulgated by the Conservative government and which somehow our own people, our spokesmen, have come to accept." Lord Callaghan adds: "They seem to have been brainwashed by Conservative propaganda".
According to NOP poll data, the Conservatives led by 45 per cent to Labour's 23 per cent when people were asked in 1979 which party had the best law-and-order policies, compared with a Labour lead of 26 per cent to the Tories' 20 per cent last June.
Lord Callaghan also warns against any attempt by Mr Blair to break the relationship between Labour and the unions, saying he would be "very opposed" to that.
"I suspect most party members would agree," he says. "It is part of our heritage and it is instinctive in the party and movement that we should keep the link. Anyone who doesn't believe that doesn't understand our history or the natural foundation of our party."
Lord Callaghan makes no reference to the leadership, which is where the threat to the union link is coming from, and cloaks his criticism by suggesting that it is being posed by inexperienced newcomers.
"I do hope new party members will read the history and learn from the background of the party before they come to any conclusions too quickly.Now there are many party members who, by family or by instinct, understand the nature of the Labour Party, what its roots are. There, in this area, I'm confident that the room for manoeuvre for our splendid new recruits would be limited."
Lord Callaghan Mr Blair could be biting off more than he can chew with his programme for constitutional reform, and should not think of taking immediate action against the House of Lords.Reuse content