What did we learn today? Osborne will defend the banks. Again.

The Chancellor's Autumn Statement shows a commitment to backing the unregulated and reckless financi

Forget the bluster, the spin, the deflection of blame. Forget the bleat that "there is no money". Forget the "fake metrics". Forget "the plan to ensure we keep Britain safe from the sovereign debt crisis".

This Autumn Statement represents a welcome, if still inadequate, u-turn.

Underlying all the carrots and sticks is the Treasury's frank admission of error, the Bank of England's £75 billion (with a promise of more to come), and a frantic volte-face.

Of course, the Chancellor has had to disguise his about-turn by dressing it up as austerity, but he has dramatically relaxed fiscal consolidation -- even though public finances are, by his own admission, in far worse condition than they were just six months ago.

The Autumn Statement goes some way to acknowledging the cause of the rise in government debt and of turmoil in markets, noting that there was in the UK "the greatest expansion in debt of all the world's major economies over the last decade" and that "the full scale and persistence of that impact is slowly becoming clearer."

But while Treasury orthodoxy is finally "becoming clearer" about the scale of the crisis -- one deepened by synchronised austerity -- the Chancellor seems unable to learn the lessons and fully reverse course. While acknowledging that "the financial sector has acted as a drag on growth," the Chancellor today promised to ensure Britain "remains the home of global banks and that London is the world's pre-eminent financial centre".

In other words, the government is committed to subsidising, bailing out and rewarding the City of London -- at grave cost to public sector workers, pensioners and private firms. Their analysis, reactions and policies to this crisis remain profoundly inadequate.

For make no mistake, we stand at a pivotal moment in world history, and today our politicians and economic authorities are revealed to be disgracefully ill-prepared for it.

We remind them again: Britain is not facing a sovereign debt crisis. This is not a eurozone crisis. It is a private banking crisis: the catastrophic unravelling of the private, liberalised financial system. Governments, including our own, are not the cause of turmoil: they are victims of the turmoil in private financial markets -- in the City of London, "home to global banks".

The unregulated financial sector has lent recklessly and expensively for some thirty years to itself, to firms and to households. As a result, private indebtedness -- as both the Autumn Statement and the McKinsey Global Institute carefully document -- is at its highest as a share of income ever in history.

The unfolding and related crisis of sovereign debt is a consequence; the result of four years of futile attempts by western governments to maintain, compensate and support this bankrupt system. Osborne, in his statement today, persists in his backing of this failed order.

As rising unemployment, falling incomes and despair begins to crush western societies; as "indignants" in Britain, Europe and the US lead protests against more cuts in pay and pensions and are brutally assaulted by police for their pains, we are confronted by a frightening reality.

Our leaders and their advisers simply cannot absorb the lessons of the crisis. As a result they have abrogated any responsibility to lead. Instead, they struggle manfully to maintain and uphold the old, catastrophic financial system -- and are incapable of constructing a new, global order.

The resulting policy vacuum is frightening. No wonder the Polish foreign minister warns of "a crisis of apocalyptic proportions".

Ann Pettifor is executive director of Advocacy International and a fellow of the New Economics Foundation

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.