This Saturday, May 26th, The People’s History Museum in Manchester is commemorating the centenary of the birth of James Callaghan.
Callaghan was the only person to hold all four great offices of state – home secretary, foreign secretary, chancellor of the exchequer and prime minister. He is one of six PMs not to have gone to university. And perhaps more pertinently for our times, as PM (1976-9) he operated a minority government.
While Andy Burnham MP will talk about Callaghan’s legacy to the modern Labour Party, there are many issues that are as poignant now as ever.
For example, devolved politics, and entry into Europe (Callaghan was foreign secretary when membership was negotiated). Callaghan is most famous for presiding over the ‘Winter of Discontent’ (1978-9) when public sector workers were on strike and the rubbish went uncollected in the streets. His was the last Labour administration until Blair’s of 1997 – Labour were out of office for a generation.
Yet this masks the achievements of a pragmatist PM. He eschewed the complex ideological debates regarding socialism and placed great emphasis on keeping in tune with grassroots activists, which appears to contrast starkly with modern politicians who are guided more by opinion poll than by principle.
It is these issues which we hope will be remembered and discussed by our witness panels – his daughter Baroness Jay, son Michael Callaghan, prospective Labour MP Malcolm McVicar, and journalist Geoffrey Goodman. Lord Morgan, his biographer, will deliver the keynote address on Callaghan too. It is also an opportunity for the PHM to draw attention to one part of its collection, on James Callaghan, and we will have a display from our archive of Callaghan material.