At 11.39pm, April 14 1912, a man called Robert Hitchins made the mistake of turning right instead of left. The RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, taking with it a captain who had blithely ignored all warnings of danger and plowed on full steam ahead with the arrogance of an Empire which was soon to go the way of that cursed ship.
The stock phrase “the rest is history” seems too tacitly accepting of a lack of agency behind the tragedy – that it could not have been averted had hubris been set aside.
Future generations will look back on George Osborne – the worst Chancellor in British history – and wonder why he arrogantly insisted on steering to the right at full speed when he could have turned to the left and saved the country from sinking.
Yesterday will be the day those future historians will write about as it was revealed that the UK economy shrunk by 0.3% in the final quarter of 2012 – Britain enters its first ever triple dip recession and Osborne dines on triple dipped chips in a fancy Swiss restaurant.
Left-wing economists and politicians warned from the start that the Tory austerity drive, cutting public services for the nation’s poorest while cutting taxes for its richest, would only entrench the crisis and the misery it has brought.
But even the IMF – whose own neoliberal structural adjustment programmes ravaged the developing world – has now called for Osborne to apply the brakes.
And Jim O’Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, said the chancellor’s pursuit of austerity despite the flashing red light of stagnation, risks a lost decade for the British economy.
“Based on my business experience, if what you thought was not delivering what you expect to be the outcome surely you have to change what you thought a little,” O’Neill said.
The government needs a Plan B. It should reverse its VAT hike to boost consumer spending and stop punishing the poor. It should also reverse its corporate tax cuts and the abolition of the 50% personal income tax rate to raise revenue without giving handouts to the wealthiest individuals and biggest corporations. It needs to follow up its warm words on cracking down on tax avoidance with cold, hard action. With the revenue this attracts and, yes, more borrowing in the short term, it must roll back the bruising welfare cuts and invest in new housing and infrastructure projects to create much-needed jobs and consumption.
Everyone knows you can’t dig your way out of a hole by going down.
Instead Osborne remains on course against all warnings and all evidence, blaming Labour, blaming the eurozone, blaming the weather, blaming Poseidon great god of the sea to deflect attention from the real issue.
His policies have failed. Yesterday’s grim economic figures lay bare the stark truth: neoliberal austerity cannot save Britain, it is simply an ideologically-driven device to ensure the rich continue to profit while the poor are left begging for table scraps that will never, ever trickle down.
George Osborne, remember the lessons of the Titanic. History will judge you better if you turn left now. But you only know how to turn right. And that is why you will fail.