14 Feb 2010

Denis Healey and the man behind Britain’s IMF bail-out

Okay, points mean prizes. This 88-year-old man sat at the British cabinet table and decided British economic policy. Who is he?

 He is Dr Johannes Witteveen, Managing Director of the IMF in 1976 when the Labour government ran out of money.

IMF bail-outs have been in the news, with some European leaders wanting the money men from Washington brought in to sort out Greece.

The French and the Germans are for now standing firmly against that. The IMF has already bailed out Hungary, Lativia and Iceland in this crisis.

David Cameron has muttered darkly, shouted sometimes, that it could all happen again here.

So I popped over to The Hague to ask the man who pulled the strings back in 1976 what it’s like when the IMF comes to town. Could it happen again?

I also caught up with Denis Healey to ask what it’s like going “cap in hand” to the money men. 

As it happens, he was in Downing Street being given lunch by Alistair Darling, who was not, I’m assured, checking on how you fill in the application forms.

Denis Healey remains bitter that, as he puts it, the Treasury “got the bloody figures wrong” and exaggerated Britain’s economic malaise.

Dr Witteveen – dubbed “Dr. Weetabix” by Private Eye back in 1976 – suggests that’s delusional and that Britain needed to learn it couldn’t keep spending its way out of trouble and that the IMF medicine – giant cuts, tax rises and general austerity measures (coming again soon to a cinema near you) – was essential to stabilise the markets and the pound. 

You can hear them both on tonight’s Channel 4 News at 6.30pm.

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