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Time and Chance Hardcover – Illustrated, 13 Apr 1987
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About the Author
James Callaghan was born in 1912. He was a Labour MP from 1945 to 1987, when he joined the Lords. He died in 2005. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Callaghan's memoirs take him through his childhood, his early days in the Inland Revenue and the Navy, which really do show that a politican should have a film grounding in a career before starting in political life. Not just for the experience, but to give a sense of how people at the sharp end of governmental policies are affected. After 1945 Callaghan is swept into the great Attlee landslide, and thereafter his story is essentially that of the Labour movement in the UK - the early successes, the 13 years of opposition and the Bevan/Gaitskill split, the vast hopes and gradual disillusion of the Wilson governments.
During all these moments Callaghan rose and rose, to the point where he was made Chancellor in 1964, only to spend three years fighting a losing battle against devaluation. When it came he was tarnished, but not irrevocably and swapped places with Roy Jenkins, then at the Home Office. Callaghan did not continue Jenkins' liberal reforms, more's the pity, but seems to be far more of a social conservative than his great rival (and also than Healy, another right-wing LAbour rival). We then see Callaghan fighting for the "renogotiation" of the EEC terms once back in office in 1974, which he relates with a straight face, which must have been difficult.
Upon Wilson's resignation in 1976, Callaghan fought successfully for the Labour leadership (and thus Prime Ministership). But, interestingly, he says during this point that an autobiographical piece he wrote was the only one he ever wrote. The lack of self-reflection this displays seems unusual for a politican these days, given (as said above) the spate of self-justifying memoirs from even minor Cabinet ministers. Also, Callaghan during his account of his PM-ship seems only focused on the day-to-day, even while he was accounted a successful Chairman style PM: there is little sense of an overriding ideological sense guiding his choices, but rather a practical wish to incrementally improve standards in his various hobby horses - the Navy, education, social services. One really senses that for some PMs (Major being another), high public office is a goal in itself rather than offering the ability to carry out some cherished ideals.
Callaghan also mentions his farm, his wife, his abundant family, amidst the toil of being PM, to complete the sense of him as a man. He seems to have been a very good person to work for - it's often suggested that he was a better PM than he was Chancellor, or Home or Foreign Secretary. In the end, though, despite it all, Callaghan seems now destined to be remembered for the Winter of Dicontent, which shows the truth of the adage that "all political careers end in failure". Callaghan's failure is more important than many others, and for this reason his memoirs are well worth reading.