In July 1944, 45 nations met at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire to discuss plans for the post-war monetary order, and to create the International Monetary Fund and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Discussions on trade soon followed with the negotiation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in Geneva in 1947. This post-war multilateral order was largely an American creation to prevent ‘beggar my neighbour policies’ of currency depreciation and trade warfare, and to create a balance between economic nationalism and the pursuit of globalisation. Now, 75 years later, President Trump is challenging these multilateral institutions and threatening a return to economic nationalism. At the same time, Brexiteers appeal to article 24 of GATT which they (wrongly) claim will allow a transitional trade deal with Europe, and proclaim the virtues of ‘a bright future based on World Trade Organisation rules, the body that succeeded and incorporated the GATT.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, the MP for Torfaen in South Wales and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Industrial Heritage, has every reason to be passionate. His own family worked in the South Wales coalfield, and his constituency is the home of the Big Pit at Blaenavon which is part of the World Heritage Site. On 11 July 2019, a summit of the APPG met at the V and A.
The director of the V and A, Tristram Hunt, pointed out that the museum brings together two strands. The first is the collection of the East India Company; the second is the celebration of industry at the Great Exhibition of 1851. The V and A is the embodiment of Industry and Empire, the title of Eric Hobsbawm’s classic economic history of modern Britain. Whether the V and A adequately interprets its imperial background is a moot point. It is trying to make links with industry in conjunction with regional museums in five industrial centres to inspire thinking about design – and the new base in Stratford in east London will rescue the industrial heritage of the Lea valley and London as a major centre of the industrial revolution.