Interview: Lord Callaghan

By Richards, Steve | New Statesman (1996), December 20, 1996 | Go to article overview

Interview: Lord Callaghan

Richards, Steve, New Statesman (1996)

"It is our heritage that we keep the link between the unions and the party," says Labour's last Prime Minister. Only if you believe that, can you understand the party

At the age of 84, Lord Callaghan surveys the political scene from a unique perspective. He is the sole surviving former Labour Prime Minister, and the only politician from any party who has held all the great offices of state. He was Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary before becoming Prime Minister in 1976. And yet, with Labour on the verge of government for the first time since he left Downing Street more than 17 years ago, Callaghan keeps a low profile. Until now, he has not given a full-length interview since Blair became leader.

On my arrival at his office in the House of Lords, he warns that he is not as fluent as he once was, but then proceeds to be highly articulate on issues ranging from the recent changes to the Labour Party, its links with the trade unions, and the prospects for a Blair government. His long silence should not be mistaken for an elder statesman's indifference to contemporary events. Rather, it is to do with the fear of playing the "back-seat driver", offering advice or throwing hand grenades in from the sidelines in the manner of the Conservatives' two living former Prime Ministers.

Callaghan's political personality is unchanged. At first, it is almost unnerving to hear a voice and style so closely associated with the sixties and seventies discussing the nineties. He still combines avuncularity with occasional signs of grumpiness, and a conservative reverence for those institutions that have an egalitarian purpose. He remains a formidable politician. In her memoirs, Margaret Thatcher revealed that he was the only MP on the opposition benches who worried her when he rose to speak. Today he conveys a wariness about aspects of new Labour, without appearing disloyal.

Callaghan always had sharp political antennae. During the 1979 election he confided to his senior adviser, Bernard Donoughue, that he thought the political tide had turned and there was nothing he or anyone else in the Labour Party could do about it. A few days later he was out of power and the party has been in opposition ever since. In his analysis of the "tide" 17 years later, he is brutally candid about his and his generation s failure to adapt.

"A new generation was growing up and had reached the stage where their ideas were becoming popular - and we failed to adjust to that. To understand the reason, one has to go right back to the war and before. In the thirties, what we now call the market economy failed. There was the great Depression with millions unemployed. As soon as the war came, that disappeared. We had a centralised economy which provided work for everyone. So when my generation of young people came into the public eye we said there was no going back to the twenties and thirties, and we said: 'Look what happened during the war - a centralised economy has shown that we can plan for success.'

"But by the 1970s a new generation had grown up that did not have our wartime experience and didn't think it was relevant. So I think we failed to recognise the new expectations of the younger generation. The think-tanks of the right, with their new people - we simply failed to pay any attention to them."

The tide moved in a Thatcherite direction for a long time. Indeed, it can be argued that it is still moving relentlessly on. But Callaghan does not agree. "It's full tide now and it's beginning to go out. I think the market economy has shown up so much harshness, so much shortcoming in the matter of public provision, that the tide is in retreat. And I think what Tony Blair is attempting to do is to synthesise what is happening in the market economy with a growing feeling that this is not enough, that there has to be a social perspective in health and education and that we must stand against exploitation, privilege and injustice. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Interview: Lord Callaghan


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.