James Callaghan, British Prime Minister 1976-1979, dies aged 92

Jim Callaghan, the only man to rise through the trade union movement to head a Labour government, died at his Sussex home yesterday, 11 days after the death of his wife Audrey. He would have been 93 today.

Jim Callaghan, the only man to rise through the trade union movement to head a Labour government, died at his Sussex home yesterday, 11 days after the death of his wife Audrey. He would have been 93 today.

A brief statement from the Callaghan family last night said: "He was the unique holder of the four major offices of State: Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary; and the longest-living Prime Minister in the history of the country."

As the political world paid tribute to Callaghan last night, Tony Blair hailed him as one of the "giants of the Labour movement".

Mr Blair said: "He worked tirelessly to put into action the values of social justice, solidarity and opportunity for all which brought him into politics and the Labour Party.

Mr Blair added: "He was a patriot, a loyal servant of party and country and a devoted husband and father. His love for Audrey was very special. Jim Callaghan will be remembered with affection and respect."

The son of a naval Chief Petty Officer, "Sunny Jim" Callaghan sometimes appeared nonplussed by his own rise to high office, though others attributed it to a streak of ruthlessness.

While serving as Home Secretary, in the late 1960s, he took to the streets in opposition to the trade union reforms proposed by his Cabinet colleague Barbara Castle, earning himself the nickname "keeper of the cloth cap". He sacked Castle when he took over as Prime Minister, after Harold Wilson's sudden resignation in 1976.

His profound loyalty to the union movement was rooted in the 11 years he spent before the war as an official of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation. He went to work for the Inland Revenue after leaving school at 16, and married Audrey Moulton in 1938.

His apparently relaxed approach to the problems besetting his government led to his being famously misquoted in a headline that ran "Crisis? What crisis?"

Neil Kinnock, who declined to serve in Callaghan's government, mocked him at one Labour Party conference by singing a version of an old Paul Robeson hit, changing the lyrics to: "Ol' Man Callaghan, that Ol' Man Callaghan, he must know something, but don't say nothing ..."

Callaghan was a Labour MP for 42 years, including more than 30 years on the front bench. As Home Secretary, in 1967-70, he took the fateful decision to send British troops into Northern Ireland as peacekeepers.

A spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace said the Queen was "sending a private message of sympathy to the family." The Prince of Wales said he was saddened to hear of his death. "Lord Callaghan was a remarkable man who showed great kindness to me when he was Prime Minister," he said.

Lord Healey, who served as Chancellor under Callaghan from 1976 to 1979, remembered the former Labour leader as "a very good friend and colleague from the war on. He was a brilliant Prime Minister. He had a very extraordinary skill for picking on the issues that mattered."

"I'm very sad about it," said Lord Healey, who last saw him at Audrey's funeral, and added: "In a sense, he wouldn't have been sorry to have gone so soon after her death."

Lord Hattersley, another cabinet colleague from the late 1970s, added: "It was not a major surprise - I knew what a blow the death of his wife was," he said. "He was a decent, kindly man who helped me and my generation of politicians immensely."

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, said: "Jim Callaghan will be mourned throughout the world. In all the positions he held with distinction, his commitment was to help those most in need. Like many MPs younger than him, I was always grateful for his generous advice and support. My thoughts are with his family. The Labour Party and the country will be poorer without him."

Tony Benn, who had known Callaghan since Labour's first post-war government under Clement Attlee and served as Energy Secretary in his Cabinet, said: "I had disagreements with him but I was very, very fond of him ... I'm really, really sad that he has died."

Lord Owen, Foreign Secretary under Callaghan before going on to co-found the Social Democratic Party, paid tribute to his statesman-like qualities. "He was very cool, calm, he had a an extremely good relationship with President Carter, and I think he was a person who other heads of state, other heads of government, would listen to. He had a very good way of quietly getting on with them, giving them quiet views and they would know they could respect him, could trust him."

Alun Michael, the environment minister who took over the Cardiff South & Penarth constituency from Callaghan, said the former party leader had kept in regular contact with his old constituency.

"His leadership as Prime Minister in an enormously difficult time for the party, and the tremendous contribution he made nationally and internationally, has always been underestimated.

"He was a great statesman, a great leader and a great parliamentarian. I and many others in the local party will miss his warmth and his wisdom."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all