James Callaghan

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Leonard James Callaghan, Baron Callaghan of Cardiff (27 March 1912 – 26 March 2005) was a UK politician; Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1976 -1979)


  • Never let me hear anyone say again that a Socialist State cannot provide outlets for those with initiative. The rewards given to ability in the U.S.S.R. at all levels are far greater than those given to the employed in capitalist Britain. I have seen it and it works.
    • Reynolds News (17 March, 1946).
  • I have not the slightest doubt that the economic measures and the Socialist measures which one will find in the countries of Eastern Europe, will become increasingly powerful against the unco-ordinated, planless society in which the West is living at present.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 632, col. 679.
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 15 December 1960.
  • I hate putting up taxes.
    • Interview on BBC television, 20 May, 1965.
  • Those who advocate devaluation are calling for a reduction in the wage levels and the real wage standards of every member of the working class.
    • "Chancellor stands by three per cent growth and no devaluation", The Times, 25 July 1967, p. 13
    • The government was forced to devalue in November 1967.
  • If we have to prove our Europeanism by accepting that French is the dominant language in the Community, then my answer is quite clear, and I will say it in French in order to prevent any misunderstanding: Non, merci beaucoup.
    • Speech at Southampton, 25 May, 1971
  • James Callaghan: ...I am not pro, nor am I anti...
    Robin Day: What are you doing on this programme?
    Callaghan: I'm here because you asked me.
    Day: You're here to advise people to vote 'Yes' aren't you?
    Callaghan: ...I am here, and the Prime Minister has taken the same line; it is our job to advise the British people on what we think is the right result. Now there are a lot of other people who've always been emotionally committed to the Market. A lot of other people have been always totally opposed to the Market. I don't think the Prime Minister or myself have ever been in either category and that is not our position today. I'm trying to present the facts as I see them and why we have come down in favour of – now Britain is in, we should stay in.
    • On Robin Day's phone-in (27 May, 1975).
    • David Butler and Uwe Kitzinger, The 1975 Referendum (London: Macmillan, 1976), p. 176.
  • First of all, please make sure that you go and vote in the Common Market referendum on Thursday. And secondly, the Government asks you to vote 'Yes', clearly and unmistakeably.
    • Referendum broadcast, 2 June, 1975.
    • Callaghan had not wanted to appear in a broadcast for 'Britain in Europe', so he was instead introduced as the Foreign Secretary giving a separate broadcast within a 'Britain in Europe' timeslot.
  • But the policies of the 1960s would not be successful today. No more would general import controls.They benefit some home industries at the expense of the livelihood of everyone working in exports. We would be robbing Peter to pay Paul.
    • Speech at Woolwich, 30 January, 1976.
  • We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step.
    • Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1976, page 188.
    • Speech at the Labour Party Conference, 28 September 1976. This part of his speech was written by his son-in-law, future BBC Economics correspondent Peter Jay.
  • When we reject unemployment as an economic instrument — as we do — and when we reject also superficial remedies, as socialists must, then we must ask ourselves unflinchingly what is the cause of high unemployment. Quite simply and unequivocally, it is caused by paying ourselves more than the value of what we produce. There are no scapegoats.
    • Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1976, p. 188.
    • Speech at the Labour Party Conference, 28 September 1976.
  • If we were to fail, I do not think another Government could succeed. The result would be a National Government situation and I fear it would lead to totalitarianism of the Right or Left.
    • Financial Times, 1 October, 1976.
  • I think there is a case for opening a national debate on these matters.
    • Answering questions in the House of Commons, 14 October 1976, referring to education policy. The phrase "national debate on education" is associated with Callaghan's speech at Ruskin College on 18 October 1976 but appears nowhere in the text; it was however used extensively in pre-briefing for the contents of the speech.
  • A lie can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 918, col. 976.
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 1 November 1976; this is a paraphrase of Charles Spurgeon: "A lie travels round the world while truth is putting on her boots."
  • It is quite clear from what has been said and written that, time after time after time, there has been a conspiracy between the Conservative Front Bench in this House and the inbuilt Conservative majority in the House of Lords to defeat legislation that has passed through the House of Commons...I warn the House of Lords of the consequences...it is our strong view that the House of Lords should recall that its role is not that of a wrecking chamber, but of a revising chamber. In recent weeks, it has been wrecking legislation passed by this House.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 5th Series, vol. 919, col. 211.
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 9 November, 1976.
  • Meantime I say to both sides of industry, 'Please don't support us with general expressions of good will and kind words, and then undermine us through unjustified wage increases or price increases. Either back us or sack us.'
    • Speech, Labour Party Conference, Brighton, 5 October 1977. Source: Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1977, page 217.
  • The commentators have fixed the month for me, they have chosen the date and the day. But I advise them: "Don't count your chickens before they are hatched." Remember what happened to Marie Lloyd. She fixed the day and the date, and she told us what happened. As far as I remember it went like this: 'There was I, waiting at the church–' (laughter). Perhaps you recall how it went on. 'All at once he sent me round a note. Here's the very note. This is what he wrote: "Can't get away to marry you today, my wife won't let me."' Now let me just make clear that I have promised nobody that I shall be at the altar in October? Nobody at all.
    • "Mr Callaghan renews plea for 5% pay guideline", The Times, 6 September 1978, p. 4.
    • Speech at the Trades Union Congress, 5 September 1978. Callaghan was teasing the audience about the date for the impending general election. Although his message was intended to convey that he may not call an election in October, many people interpreted him as saying that the opposition would be caught unprepared by an October election.
    • Callaghan deliberately misattributed the music hall song "Waiting at the Church" to Marie Lloyd rather than to its real singer, Vesta Victoria, knowing that Vesta Victoria was too obscure for the audience to recognise.
  • Well, that's a judgment that you are making. I promise you that if you look at it from outside, and perhaps you're taking rather a parochial view at the moment, I don't think that other people in the world would share the view that there is mounting chaos.
    • Response to Evening Standard reporter's question "What is your general approach, in view of the mounting chaos in the country at the moment?", 10 January 1979; used to justify The Sun headline "Crisis? What Crisis?" on 11 January.
  • We can truly say that once the Leader of the Opposition had discovered what the Liberals and the SNP were going to do, she found the courage of their convictions. So, this evening, the Conservative Party, who want the Act repealed and oppose even devolution, will march through the Lobby with the SNP, who want independence for Scotland, and with the Liberals, who want to keep the Act. What a massive display of unsullied principle! The minority parties have walked into a trap. If they win, there will be a general election. I am told that the current joke going round the House is that it is the first time in recorded history that turkeys have been known to vote for an early Christmas.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 965, col. 471.
    • In the No confidence debate which brought his government down on 28 March 1979, Callaghan poked fun at the opposition parties and drew attention to their low showing in opinion polls. In the event the Scottish National Party lost 9 of its 11 seats.
  • Now that the House of Commons has declared itself, we shall take our case to the country.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 965, col. 589.
    • Following the announcement that the government had lost by 1 vote, Callaghan declared his intention to call a general election.
  • David Rose (ITN reporter): Industrial relations and picketing. What about the TUC putting its house in order?
    James Callaghan: The media's always trying to find what's wrong with something .. Let's try and make it work.
    Rose: What if the unions can't control their own militants? So there are no circumstances where you would legislate?
    Callaghan: I didn't say anything of that sort at all. I'm not going to take the interview any further. Look here. We've been having five minutes on industrial relations. You said you would do prices. I'm just not going to do this .. that programme is not to go. This interview with you is only doing industrial relations. I'm not doing the interview with you on that basis. I'm not going to do it. Don't argue with me. I'm not going to do it.
    • Michael Pilsworth, "Balanced Broadcasting", in David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh, "The British General Election of 1979" (Macmillan, 1980), p. 207-8.
    • Callaghan objects to the line of questioning of ITN's David Rose in an interview recorded on 2 May 1979. He was eventually persuaded to return and recorded a new interview, but owing to an agreement with NBC TV that they should have access to all material recorded by ITN, it was shown in the USA and then reported in the Daily Telegraph.
  • There are times, perhaps once every thirty years, when there is a sea-change in politics. It then does not matter what you say or what you do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of. I suspect there is now such a sea-change and it is for Mrs. Thatcher.
    • Kenneth Morgan, Callaghan: A Life (1997), p. 697.
    • On the general election of 1979
  • Unilateral disarmament by Britain is opposed to our country's best interests, could begin the unravelling of NATO and therefore jeopardise the stability of Europe.
    • The Guardian, 19 November, 1982.
  • For 338 paragraphs the Franks report painted a splendid picture, delineated the light and the shade, and the glowing colours in it, and when Franks got to paragraph 339 he got fed up with the canvas he was painting and chucked a bucket of whitewash over it.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 6th series, vol. 35, col. 939.
    • Responding to the Franks Inquiry into intelligence before the Falklands War, in the House of Commons on 26 January 1983.
  • The Soviet Union's propaganda clearly wishes to use public opinion in this country to get the West to reduce its own arms while doing nothing themselves. In this way they would gain nuclear superiority. This is simply not on.
    • Tim Jones, "Callaghan defends deterrent", The Times (26 May, 1983), p. 1.
    • Speech at Cardiff, 25 May 1983, during the 1983 general election in which the Labour Party had a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament.
  • A leader must have the courage to act against an expert's advice.
    • The Harvard Business Review, 1 November 1986.
  • A leader has to appear consistent. That doesn't mean he has to be consistent.
    • The Harvard Business Review, 1 November 1986.


  • I am Moses, leading my people towards the Promised Land.
    • Frequent self-description.
  • You never reach the promised land. You can march towards it.
    • The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations attributes this to a television interview of 20 July 1978.
  • Some people, however long their experience or strong their intellect, are temperamentally incapable of reaching firm decisions.


  • He was very emotional, and he said to us "a lot of you are very clever people; you've had university education which I never had, and you would have made a success of whatever walk of life you had gone into. But always remember that it was the Labour Party which put you where you are." Even some of us who had no time for him before the election found it very moving.
    • Alistair Michie and Simon Hoggart, The Pact: The inside story of the Lib-Lab government, 1977-8 (Quarter Books, London, 1978), p. 93.
    • Un-named left-wing Labour MP, who was not a supporter, describing a meeting with Callaghan shortly after he became Prime Minister in 1976.

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