Saturday, March 26, 2005

Goodbye - as Paul Weller once put it - "Uncle Jimmy"

Farewell then, Jim Callaghan - the only other Labour Prime Minister of whom I have memories, albeit very vague: the lights snapping off on winter afternoons, shortages of toilet roll and potatoes (I think), the evening in 1979 when my Dad reacted to the late news on the radio with the dejected acknowledgement that the other side had done it. I skimmed through a Dictionary Of Quotations in search of a Callaghan pronouncement that might shine light on the modern world, but couldn’t find much of any use, aside from this:

“A lie can be half-way round the world before the truth has got its boots on.”

... Which is 1)Rather banal, and 2)Unwittingly, a little Goebbels-esque. Anyway, let us also remind ourselves that Callaghan attempted to institute Scots and Welsh devolution, to no avail; presided over a Labour Party that, in response to his government’s failings, began the lurch into unelectability that would mark the 1980s; and hung on until 1979, rather than calling an election in 1978 that he may well have won. Counterfactual history is a pretty pointless game, but that possibility throws up an alternative eighties - and ‘90s, and “noughties” - that I could talk about for hours (and probably will).

However, given the obligation to accentuate the dead’s positives, let us also remind ourselves of a historical fact: using the EU definition, poverty in the UK rose from 4.4m in 1979 to 10.4m in 1989, and to 12.5 million in 2003. In other words, JC presided over a society that was, by the standards of the Thatcher, Major and Blair eras, heartwarmingly egalitarian. Perhaps we should remember that.