Tumbling in freefall, no one knows if the parachutes will open. Are we nearly there yet? No, only halfway down seems the best guess - though economists measuring how far we have fallen are clueless on what's still to come. Predictions just keep getting worse.
It could last a decade, says the departing deputy head of the Bank of England. The IMF calculated three weeks ago that world growth would be the lowest since the second world war: but that's already out of date, with a new warning it will be yet worse. Yesterday's crop of figures included a 55% rise in home repossessions, with 500,000 due to fall behind with mortgage payments this year; 52% more companies went into liquidation.
The national debt bombshell from the ONS showed tax receipts down and public spending higher. Adding in bank buyouts let the Daily Mail splash across its front page that every man, woman and child now owes £33,000. Rubbish, of course, as the FT pointed out: those figures leave out bank assets. But this is killer ammunition for Conservatives and their press. "Bankrupt Britain", alongside "Broken Britain", will reprise from now until election day.
So is Labour back in leadership turmoil? No, just despair. Any party fallen so far behind in the polls will rightly question its direction. Within the cabinet more radical voices see the urgent need to get ahead of public opinion and not trail pathetically behind it. Brown, Darling and Mandelson were badly wrong-footed when even the Tories got tougher on bank bonuses. Harriet Harman won the deputy leadership by protesting about obscene rewards long before the crunch began. She was right to press the issue in cabinet; while Mandelson chunters on about the danger of Labour turning anti-business. Ed Miliband was right to fight tooth and claw against the third runway - another empty Brown gesture towards business, again outflanked by Cameron. Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper and David Miliband also press for more radicalism - and so they should. What is there to lose?
The Tory press has eagerly seized on a few acid remarks by the Blears, Hutton, Flint, Hoon and Mandelson New Labour battalion who accuse Harman of grandstanding, and others of jockeying for the post-election leadership. Are they? It's naive to think political contenders don't jostle all the time - but this is a far more important struggle. It's life and death for Labour in the here and now, never mind who leads the battered remnants if Labour loses as badly as looks likely.
Out there, Labour is profoundly detested by large numbers of people, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not. Failure feeds on itself, so Labour gets scant credit for what it has done best and blame for some things not its fault. Sleaze allegations encrust all parties long in power - whether it's Labour Lords for hire, MPs' expenses or the oddity of financiers' titles for enriching themselves and impoverishing the nation.
Worse still, Labour has lost its political talent. So long in power, ministers are now managers toiling in their silos, talking like policemen, devoid of political imagination. Remember how in the early days every attack was challenged, every phoney set of figures rebutted. Sharp as stilettos, they fought back on every policy front. Now there are only listless ya-boo press releases without substance. Where are the speechwriters?
Gordon Brown does score over Cameron as an economic heavyweight, but it stretches credulity to think people will vote him back for five more years. But the time has passed for the guillotine: Labour imploding in the middle of the world's worst crash would risk electoral disaster that might prove permanent.
In the dream scenario, Brown ascends the world stage to head a beefed-up IMF, but few imagine the man who wanted it so much can confess he wasn't leadership material after all. A Captain Oates walk to save the party he loves is an unlikely act for a man who admits no mistakes. Regrets? If he's had a few, they are too few to mention - though a well-judged apology with a purpose could draw a useful line with the past to herald a real change of direction.
So is it all over? Labour might prefer to lose, some say. Who wants to run the next few years of economic hell? Leave the suffering to the Tories. But the reason why Labour could, just, still win is the same reason why it must fight to the death to stay in. The Tories now openly admit they plan enormous cuts: even Kenneth Clarke is on that message, responding to the public finance figures with a call for an immediate spending slowdown. Not even the CBI wants that, while yesterday's FT leader called for no spending cuts now. Regardless, the Tories promise to do exactly what Thatcher did in the 1980s. It is now their official policy - alone against the world. Never mind Cameron's general wellbeing index or letting the sunshine in, this is back to Hooverite basics with alarming clarity. Debt is bad, sound finance is good, cut spending.
So far, Labour policy lacks similar clarity. There is one budget left to set out on a radically different path, but, as yet, Labour's future spending plans are almost as eye-watering as the Tories. Unless Brown dares borrow and spend more, the next election will be great ideological sound and fury over what will be in reality a small piece of turf.
Fiscal rectitude can wait: for now, 100,000 more unemployed every month matter most. Promise a job or apprenticeship for every school-leaver, create green jobs, build homes and railways. Make mortgage rescue work. Talk openly about the divide between the majority in work, doing rather well with low mortgages and falling prices: they will need to share more with jobless families and pensioners in real hardship. Explain the need to spread pain and gain more fairly. Describe what's happening honestly and why there must be no cuts in public services. Make bold savings on Trident, aircraft carriers and ID cards among other things and, for the sake of foreign investor confidence, admit that later taxes will need to rise for those who came through this well.
Clarity and honesty are the only hope: April's budget is Labour's last chance. It's an all or nothing gamble. But since the Tories will go for the jugular on debt anyway, Labour needs to take a bolder Keynesian line that really will save millions from suffering. Brown's talk of the "spirit of the Blitz" might start to resonate if he makes a braver fight against this ever darkening depression.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017