A rather forgotten incident here when Pat Arrowsmith – veteran CND campaigner – heckled a beleaguered Jim Callaghan who had held on to his Cardiff seat in the 1979 general election but just lost the country to Thatcher and the Tories.
She was shouting at him about Ireland and British intervention in the province. For those of you fascinated by the ins and outs of ultra-left politics, Arrowsmith was running against Callaghan as a candidate for the Socialist Unity party. This was a front for the International Marxist Group (IMG), which felt it had to put up candidates because a rival sect – the Socialist Workers Party – had been running in elections.
Callaghan probably had other things on his mind – like getting back to Downing Street, packing his belongings and going into opposition. But he invited Arrowsmith to speak on the platform after he had finished. Though when she appeared at the microphone to make a speech about removing British troops from Northern Ireland, Callaghan had already left the stage.
This was the moment in 1979 when Prime Minister Jim Callaghan returned home from a political summit abroad to be pounced on by a gaggle of journalists asking him how he could have left the country during a time of crisis. Callaghan was clearly irritated by the line of questioning and said that from outside the UK, the so-called ‘winter of discontent’ didn’t look so bad.
He also made a point that no spin doctor today would have ever allowed to happen – that he’d gone swimming while at the summit. An image of the PM in his Speedo trunks paddling in a tropical clime was not what the nation wanted. Callaghan never actually said the words ‘Crisis, what crisis?’ This was a cruel twist of the dagger from the hacks who scented blood.
Below that video of Callaghan – I’ve put another video. It’s an interview with Tony Benn at the time Jim Calaghan died giving his interpretation of events. Benn served under Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan and he questions the conventional wisdom that the trade unions brought Callaghan’s Labour government to its knees. He says the blame lay with the International Monetary Fund.