Callaghan did not want to enter No 10

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Indy Politics

When James Callaghan became Prime Minister in 1976 he proved remarkably reluctant to enter Downing Street. Files released today show that Callaghan tried to hang on to his grace-and-favour residence as Foreign Secretary at No 1 Carlton Gardens rather than take up residence in the flat at No. 10.

His stand alarmed officials in No. 10 and the Foreign Office. On 6 April, Sir Michael Palliser, a senior Foreign Office official, wrote to his counterparts in the Prime Minister's office. Sir Michael said he was taking up the matter "with some diffidence" as he realised it lay "wholly within the Prime Minister's discretion" but felt compelled to intervene for the sake of future foreign secretaries.

"Since Ernest Bevin moved into No 1 Carlton Gardens in 1945, it has been occupied by successive foreign secretaries, apart from the period during which it was under restoration," he wrote. " It has thus now become established as the official residence of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.''

Ken Stowe, the principal private secretary at No 10, was sympathetic. He wrote back, saying that he had explained the drawbacks of his plan to Callaghan.

It would mean reserving for himself two London residences at the taxpayers' expense while depriving whoever he appointed as the foreign secretary of an official residence in the capital. Callaghan was unmoved.

"The Prime Minister listened to all these points and obviously was prepared to give considerable weight to these objections," Stowe wrote.

"Since he was adamant that he was not prepared to inflict upon his wife the discomforts of living in No 10, then he would have to live somewhere else and, if driven to it, would elect to stay in his present flat in Kennington Park Road.

"I felt bound to say that this was not sensible."

How Callaghan was eventually persuaded to change his mind and move to No. 10 is not recorded in the file.