James ‘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
He was born on 27 March 1912 in Portsmouth to Baptist parents James and Charlotte. His father, a chief petty officer in the Royal Navy, died suddenly when Jim was nine. He attended Portsmouth Northern Secondary School and did not go on to university. Jim’s patchy education led to the formation of one of his main political passions: the right to a decent education.
In 1936 he left his first job with the Inland Revenue, where he had become a trade unionist, to become a full-time union official and was increasingly involved with the Labour party. After a stint with the Royal Navy during the war, he returned hoping to make his future in parliament and, in the 1945 Labour landslide, he took Cardiff South from the Conservatives.
On entering the House of Commons in 1945, Jim was on the left wing of the party. Though he did veer towards the centre, he maintained his reputation as “The Keeper of the Cloth Cap”, dedicated to maintaining close ties between the Labour Party and the trade unions.
By 1947 Jim was on the front bench as Parliamentary Secretary for Transport. He would go on to be the only person to have held all four Great Offices of State, serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1964–1967), Home Secretary (1967–1970) and Foreign Secretary (1974–1976), prior to his appointment as Prime Minister.
As Prime Minister, Jim had some successes, but also suffered the “Winter of Discontent” of 1978–79, where his battle with trade unions led to major strike action that seriously inconvenienced the public, ultimately leading to his defeat in the polls by Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher.
Jim remained Labour Party leader until November 1980, in order to reform the process by which the party elected its leader, before returning to the backbenches where he remained until he was made a life peer as Baron Callaghan of Cardiff.
Jim visited Ruskin in 1976, where he would give a talk that is widely regarded as having begun ‘The Great Debate’ about the nature and purpose of public education. He also laid the foundation stone of new residential block Biko House, originally named Cyril Plant Building. His grandson Joe studied at Ruskin in 2011.
Jim went on to live longer than any other British Prime Minister in history: 92 years and 364 days. He died on 26 March 2005.