Friday, 23 January 2009

Spectre of IMF loan raised

Dave Cameron has raised the possibility of Britain having to go cap in hand to the IMF for a loan as happened in 1976. The political calculation here is obvious: such a move would be a final humiliation for Labour and its economic policy.

With the archives now available, more analysis of the events of 1976 is becoming possible. Sir Douglas Wass, then of the Treasury, has already produced a monumental, authoritative and rather expensive volume. PhD students are beavering away in the archives.

Without wishing to pre-empt what they might say, recent analysis has suggested that the measures taken were perhaps more severe than was necessary. However, in many respects 1976 rather than 1979 represented the real turning point in British economic policy. Certainly the left in the Labour cabinet was out maneouvred and defeated.

Dave admitted that an incoming Conservatibe government would face 'incredibly difficult decisions.' He was careful not to specify what combination of tax rises and spending cuts might be required.

He did, however, declare himself in favour of a 'new economy' better balanced towards manufacturing and the north (where the Conservatives would like to win some seats). In that respect he seems to be singing off the same hymn sheet as Peter Mandelson. This could confirm the view of those who believe that acerbic party disputes are 'all sound and fury, signifying nothing' as the range of available policy options in a given situation is actually quite limited.

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