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in the news - Lord Callaghan

A former tax officer, full-time union official, and war-time sailor might not be everyone's first choice as an architectural competition judge but Lord Callaghan of Cardiff has taken to the task like a duck to water.

Chairing the panel choosing the design for the Welsh Assembly building in Cardiff Bay is a lot of fun, says the 86-year-old former prime minister.

He is keen to make a long-standing mark on the Welsh civic scene and to usher in a building that will do for Wales what Big Ben has done for London and England. While anxious to avoid any of the brouhaha that surrounded the ill-fated Cardiff Bay Opera House scheme, he won't shrink from a position if he believes he's right.

No stranger to controversy, as a junior transport minister back in the late 1940s he introduced zebra crossings and cats' eyes to the uk public. Twenty years later, as Harold Wilson's chancellor of the exchequer, he brought in the equally enduring corporation tax and capital gains tax.

Born in 1912, he has devoted most of his life to public service of one kind or another, and is the only man to have held the four principal offices of state: prime minister, foreign secretary, home secretary and chancellor.

First elected as an mp in 1945, he quickly made his mark in Attlee's government and was at the centre of uk political life for the next 40 years. The strike-filled 1978-79 winter of discontent did for him and he resigned as Labour leader after losing the May 1979 general election.

When he left the Commons in 1987, he was created a life peer and he has played a full part in the Lords ever since.

In one parliamentary seat or another, he represented Cardiff for nearly 42 years. One of the city's favourite sons, he is determined that the National Assembly building should present a modern image of Wales, rather than the Victorian glorification of strength and imperialism seen in the capital's City Hall.

Whether or not he runs into a flak barrage similar to the one that shot down his fellow peer Nicholas Crickhowell, James Callaghan is a sufficiently wily politician to weather the storm and press his panel's choice on the public. To most of them, Sailor Jim can do no wrong.

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