Former crisis-hit PM honoured at Bodleian

thisisoxfordshire: Prime Minister Jim Callaghan arrives at Ruskin College in 1976 Prime Minister Jim Callaghan arrives at Ruskin College in 1976

STRIKE action during the 1978 Winter of Discontent made Jim Callaghan’s government unpopular with many voters.

But now an evening is being hosted by Oxford University’s Bodleian Library to remember the achievements of the former Labour Prime Minister.

The Bodleian, Oxford University, and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography are to hold the public event on Thursday, March 7, to honour the politician.

The evening starts at 5.30pm with a seminar, and speakers will include his daughter Baroness Jay, Lord Hattersley, Lord Morgan, and Oxford East MP Andrew Smith.

Lord Callaghan’s private papers have been deposited at the Bodleian, and the seminar will be followed by a reception at the library’s Divinity School.

Mr Smith said he was “honoured” to be invited. He said: “He was a great Labour political figure and the only politician to hold all offices of state – Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary as well as Prime Minister.

“He is rightly respected as someone who achieved all this, having come up the hard way, his character shaped by trade unionism, the poverty he had known in his youth, non-conformist Baptist values and the Royal Navy.”

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During 1976, his first year as Prime Minister, the then Jim Callaghan gave a speech at Ruskin College to voice concerns that school leavers often lacked basic skills.

During his visit he helped lay a foundation stone for the college’s Ruskin Hall and a library was named after him when it was opened in 2011.

During a 1968 visit to Ruskin he was surrounded by 200 students, some of whom gave Nazi salutes, over a controversial immigration law.

The planned Commonwealth Immigrants Act cut back the rights of people from Commonwealth countries to live in the UK.

After a raft of 1978 public sector strikes, Lord Callaghan lost the 1979 General Election to Margaret Thatcher.

Mr Smith said: “As Prime Minister he grappled with impossibly difficult economic and industrial circumstances, but retained considerable personal public support even when losing the 1979 general election. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if Labour had pulled together behind him more effectively, we might even have been spared the excesses of Thatcherism.”

The event is open to all. For details contact Helen Langley on 01865 277147 or helen.langley@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

FACT FILE

  • Born in 1912, father-of-three Lord Callaghan died aged 92 in 2005.
  • He married Audrey Moulton in 1938 and they had three children, including Baroness Jay, leader of the House of Lords from 1998 to 2001.
  • A leading campaigner against British colonialism during the 1950s, Lord Callaghan became one of the key figures in the Wilson governments, from 1964 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1976, holding the most senior Cabinet posts, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, and Foreign Secretary.
  • He was PM from 1976 to 1979.
  • He resigned as leader of the Labour Party in 1980 – to be succeeded by Michael Foot – and became Lord Callaghan of Cardiff in 1987.
     

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