Contemporary European History

Articles

Negotiating Credibility: Britain and the International Monetary Fund, 1956–1976

BEN CLIFTa1 and JIM TOMLINSONa2

a1 Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL; B.M.Clift@warwick.ac.uk.

a2 School of Humanities, University of Dundee, Dundee, DD14HN; j.d.tomlinson@dundee.ac.uk.

Abstract

For twenty years before the famous crisis of 1976 Britain was a regular borrower from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Through this lending role, the Fund in these years played a key part in determining the credibility of British policies. Borrowing from the Fund meant that British policy had to be seen as conforming to certain norms, but these norms were always negotiable, albeit within shifting limits. This article uses archival material from London and Washington to examine these processes of negotiation, showing how far British policy was shaped by the desires of the IMF, and how far it was able to maintain autonomy in national economic policy.

Négocier la crédibilité? La Grande-Bretagne et le Fonds monétaire international de 1956 à 1976

Durant les vingt années qui précèdent la fameuse crise de 1976, la Grande-Bretagne a régulièrement emprunté de l'argent au Fonds monétaire international. En prêtant de l'argent, le Fonds participait à l'établissement de la crédibilité de la politique britannique. L'emprunt d'argent du Fonds signifiait en effet que la politique britannique devait se conformer à certaines normes dont les limites cependant sont perpétuellement renégociées. Cet article se base sur l'étude de matériel archivistique de Londres et Washington pour examiner ces processus de négociation. Il montre jusqu'à quel point la politique britannique s'adaptait aux exigences du Fonds monétaire international ainsi que les limites de l'autonomie de la politique économique britannique.

Verhandeln von Glaubwürdigkeit? Großbritannien und der Internationale Währungsfonds von 1956 bis 1976

Großbritannien lieh sich während den zwanzig Jahren vor der berüchtigten Krise von 1976 regelmäßig Geld vom Internationalen Währungsfonds. Dadurch spielte der Währungsfonds eine wichtige Rolle in der Festlegung der Glaubwürdigkeit der britischen Wirtschaftspolitik. Die britische Wirtschaftspolitik wurde passte sich somit gewissen Normen an, welche jedoch in einem gewissen Rahmen immer verhandelbar waren. Dieser Artikel stützt sich auf Archivquellen aus London und Washington, um aufzuzeigen, inwiefern die britische Politik von den Wünschen des Währungsfonds beeinflusst war und inwiefern es ihr möglich war, eine autonome Volkswirtschaftspolitik aufrechtzuerhalten.

Ben Clift is Senior Lecturer in Political Economy in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick. He is author of French Socialism in a Global Era: The Political Economy of the New Social Democracy in France (2003) and co-editor of Where Are National Capitalisms Now? (2004). His research interests lie in comparative and international political economy, and he has written widely on British and French political economy, French socialism, New Labour, comparative capitalisms and global finance. He has published several articles in, among others, the British Journal of Political Science, Party Politics, Political Studies, Journal of Common Market Studies, New Political Economy, Government and Opposition, Political Quarterly, Journal of Political Ideologies, British Journal of Politics and International Relations and French Politics.

Jim Tomlinson is Bonar Professor of Modern History and Head of Research at the College of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Dundee. He has published widely on the historical political economy of modern Britain, and his most recent book is The Labour Governments 1964–1970, vol. 3, Economic Policy (2004). He is currently working on projects concerned with the comparative development of national economic management, the historical evolution of public understanding of economic issues and the management of the decline of the Dundee jute industry.

Footnotes

The authors would like to thank the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for financial support, and the ESRC-funded Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation at the University of Warwick for funding Ben Clift's teaching buy-out which enabled parts of this research to be pursued. We would also like to thank the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick for granting the study leave and providing the financial support which enabled the fieldwork in Washington to be carried out.