Sir Tom McCaffrey, Callaghan’s press secretary – obituary


Sir Tom McCaffrey, who has died aged 94, was press secretary to James Callaghan on the Residence Workplace, the International Workplace and for 3 turbulent years at 10 Downing Avenue.

A profession civil servant who briefly served Edward Heath with equal loyalty, he shared Callaghan’s mistrust of the press. However he made his popularity via his aptitude in successful over the media as, in 1969, Callaghan scuppered Barbara Fortress’s In Place of Strife commerce union reforms. 

McCaffrey’s briefing in opposition to considered one of his grasp’s Cupboard colleagues was unprecedented, elevating eyebrows in Whitehall within the supposedly harmless days earlier than political “spin”. Foyer correspondents needed to wait 17 years for Michael Heseltine’s determined briefing in opposition to Leon Brittan over Westland to see it repeated.

His consummate dealing with of influential political editors at the moment began Callaghan’s premiership off on the very best footing seven years later. McCaffrey arrived at No 10 with relations with the Foyer at a historic low – a results of a rupture in relations triggered by Harold Wilson’s press secretary Joe Haines within the wake of Wilson’s near-paranoid response to the protection he was receiving.

McCaffrey’s first motion in Downing Avenue was to ring the Foyer and declare “enterprise as normal”. The twice-daily briefings (and off-the-record divulging of extra detailed info) resumed. The Foyer felt a breath of recent air after the Machiavellian and at instances abusive Haines, but when they anticipated open authorities they had been disenchanted.

The defeat of the proposals within the In Place of Strife White Paper shaped a bond with Callaghan that may endure past Labour’s ejection from energy in 1979, when McCaffrey left the Civil Service to turn into the Opposition chief’s chief of employees.

Like his prime minister, McCaffrey disliked private publicity and was happiest at arm’s size from reporters. But on official visits to far-flung components of the world, he would share his whisky with attendant correspondents and focus on the matter in hand late into the evening – although by no means giving something away. With every dram, the wealthy Glaswegian of his youth supplanted the extra modulated tones of suburban Surrey.

McCaffrey’s efforts at information administration weren’t all the time profitable. When Callaghan flew to Kano, Nigeria, in 1978 for delicate talks with the Zambian chief Kenneth Kaunda concerning the persevering with warfare in Rhodesia, McCaffrey allowed solely the Press Affiliation correspondent to accompany him. But by the point the talks started, The Each day Telegraph’s Nicholas Consolation had bought there beneath his personal steam; McCaffrey handled him with the utmost courtesy.

He acquired proof of the suspicions he and Callaghan had lengthy harboured concerning the media when the prime minister’s remarks on coming back from the G7 in Guadeloupe early in 1979 on the top of the Winter of Discontent prompted the Solar headline: “Disaster? What disaster?” This was extensively credited for Labour’s subsequent defeat. McCaffrey was adamant Callaghan had been misreported, however the mud caught.

To an extent, the episode was McCaffrey’s fault. An in depth briefing for Callaghan on the rising industrial mayhem again house had been ready by two younger staffers, Tom McNally, a future Liberal Democrat minister, and Helen Liddell, who could be Scottish secretary beneath Tony Blair. McCaffrey didn’t present it to Callaghan, and the remainder is historical past.

McCaffrey’s stickiest second with the press got here in 1977, when the British ambassador in Washington, Sir Peter Ramsbotham, was made governor of Bermuda, with Callaghan’s son-in-law Peter Jay taking his place. Foyer correspondents attributed to No 10 the view that Ramsbotham was a “fuddy-duddy” and “an old style snob”, and livid Conservative MPs detected a path resulting in McCaffrey.

He denied having used any such phrases to the Foyer, however the suspicion lingered that he had levelled the accusation in non-public. Callaghan himself instructed the Home the cost couldn’t be “proved or disproved”. In 1986 McCaffrey revealed in The Each day Telegraph that he had tendered his resignation over the episode. Callaghan refused it, however left him with the impression that his conduct had not been “fully useful”.

The son of a business traveller, Thomas Daniel McCaffrey was born in Glasgow on February 20 1922. He was educated at Hyndland Secondary College and St Aloysius Faculty, Glasgow. After warfare service with the RAF, he entered the Scottish Workplace. His 13 years at St Andrew’s Home would serve him in good stead when the Callaghan authorities legislated for Scottish devolution, solely to be thwarted in an inconclusive referendum that triggered its demise.

McCaffrey moved south to the Residence Workplace, and in 1966 grew to become its chief info officer. In 5 years he served beneath three house secretaries: Roy Jenkins, Callaghan and Reginald Maudling. However his street-fighting over In Place of Strife overshadowed his departmental achievements.

In 1971 he moved to Downing Avenue as deputy to Heath’s spokesman, the diplomat Donald Maitland, however inside a 12 months Robert Carr secured his return to the Residence Workplace with the exalted title of director of knowledge companies, to orchestrate protection of the resettlement in Britain of Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin.

When Labour returned to energy in 1974, Callaghan, now overseas secretary, requested him to go the International Workplace information division, the primary non-diplomat to take action. McCaffrey’s tenure spanned a turbulent interval together with Turkey’s invasion of northern Cyprus; the profitable renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the EC; and additional excesses by Amin which obliged Callaghan to go to Uganda as a supplicant.

Wilson valued McCaffrey’s judgment, and in 1975 appointed him to a committee to look at the presentation of presidency insurance policies. The overview he gained proved invaluable when, a 12 months later, Wilson resigned and he returned to No 10 with Callaghan. McCaffrey now skilled as difficult a interval as he had weathered on the FCO: the federal government went via the IMF disaster, misplaced its majority, then needed to endure the Winter of Discontent.

When Mrs Thatcher got here to energy in 1979, McCaffrey – knighted within the resignation honours – grew to become Callaghan’s chief of employees, at half the wage, establishing and working his political and personal workplaces and persevering with as his spokesman. Within the casual world of opposition he was extra approachable and, in time, extra informative.

When Callaghan resigned late in 1980 and Michael Foot was elected in his place, McCaffrey stayed on as his chief assistant. However he uninterested in the strife between the Bennite Left and supporters of the management, and stood down after Labour’s landslide defeat in 1983 as Foot gave approach to Neil Kinnock.

That autumn Robert Maxwell employed McCaffrey to go his workplace on the British Printing and Communication Company; his transient was to sort out “inside reorganisation”, however in observe he was a factotum whose wonderful Labour contacts had been helpful to Maxwell.

After a stormy six months of business disputes and Maxwell’s makes an attempt to take over soccer golf equipment and The Observer, McCaffrey resigned. He confirmed a contact of naivety by rejoining Maxwell, who within the meantime had taken over the Mirror Group, quickly after as his public affairs adviser; once more he lasted six months, quitting in disgust on the paper’s insurance policies, which he discovered incompatible together with his socialist views, and Maxwell’s hectoring method.

Tom McCaffrey married Agnes Douglas in 1949; she survives him with their two sons, considered one of whom adopted his father into the Authorities Data Service, and 4 daughters.

Sir Tom McCaffrey, born February 20 1922, died July 8 2016


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