James Callaghan was born in Portsmouth in 1912. After being educated at Portsmouth Northern School, he joined the staff of the Inland Revenue. In 1931 he joined the Labour Party and began work as a trade union official.
When the Labour Party was elected in the 1964 General Election, Callaghan became the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In this post he created a great deal of controversy by introducing corporation tax and selective employment tax. After a long struggle, Callaghan was forced to devalue the pound in November 1967.
Callaghan resigned from office but was recalled as Home Secretary in 1968. He held the post until the defeat of the Labour government in the 1970 General Election.
Edward Heath and his Conservative government came into conflict with the trade unions over his attempts to impose a prices and incomes policy. His attempts to legislate against unofficial strikes led to industrial disputes. In 1973 a miners' work-to-rule led to regular power cuts and the imposition of a three day week. Heath called a general election in 1974 on the issue of "who rules". He failed to get a majority and Harold Wilson and the Labour Party were returned to power.
Wilson appointed Callaghan as his foreign secretary. In this post he had responsibility for renegotiating Britain's terms of membership of the European Economic Community (ECC). in 1975 Callaghan was demoted to the position of minister of overseas development.
Now aged 63, political commentators thought Callaghan's political career was coming to an end. However, when Harold Wilson resigned in 1976, Callaghan surprisingly defeated Roy Jenkins and Michael Foot for the leadership of the Labour Party.
The following year Callaghan, and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, controversially began imposing tight monetary controls. This included deep cuts in public spending on education and health. Critics claimed that this laid the foundations of what became known as monetarism. In 1978 these public spending cuts led to a wave of strikes (winter of discontent) and the Labour Party was easily defeated in the 1979 General Election.
Margaret Thatcher became the new prime minister and Callaghan was leader of the opposition until he resigned in 1980. Callaghan was made a life peer in 1987. His autobiography, Time and Chance, was published in 1987.