MUCH gibberish is doing the rounds about how politicians of the past were just as useless and corrupt as politicians of today. While politicians have always been a rotten bunch, in it for themselves, it’s a struggle to see how someone like Harold Wilson – who kept us out of the Vietnam War – is on the same footing as a loathsome, immoral creature like Tony Blair who prostituted Britain to do Washington’s bloody work in Iraq. And much as many consider Margaret Thatcher – rightly – to be a thorough villain, it’s a stretch to say Boris Johnson, a political gnat, is in any way comparable to the woman, who like it or not, reshaped the end of the 20th century.

Our current financial crisis illustrates the difference between politicians of the past and present in a simple, crystalline moment. Today, the UK is collapsing. Millions are destined for the scrap heap. Children’s lives will be ruined. Nobody needs a rehearsal of what’s happening. We’re entering the worst financial catastrophe of my lifetime – and I’ve lived through four already.

Compare today’s political inaction with the work of Clement Attlee – another exemplar who defies the feeble notion that today’s politicians are just the same as those of the past. Attlee created a fairer Britain from the rubble of war.

Over in America, though, there were even more daring ideas. In 1944, Franklin Roosevelt planned an ‘economic bill of rights’. If the Democratic president had been successful, he may well be hailed today as the greatest social revolutionary in history. And yes, Roosevelt is one more politician who gives the lie to the current taste for false equivalency between past and present.

Would anyone dare weigh Roosevelt in the scales against Trump and call it balanced?

After the Great Depression and the war, Roosevelt’s proposals would have guaranteed these economic rights: the right to work, to adequate food, to earn enough money for both life’s necessities and significantly recreation, to “decent” housing, to decent medical care and “good health”, to decent social security and education. Think of that: the right to work, alone, is a notion no politician would dare back today.

We’ve no right to food in Britain. We’ve the right to charity from food banks. We’ve no right to decent housing. We’ve the right to sleep on the street if our country fails us in our darkest hour. We’ve no right to decent education.

Even in Scotland, where there’s no tuition fees, our children only have the right to get into debt through loans if they want to survive while studying.

In his speech calling for an Economic Bill of Rights, Roosevelt said that America should never settle for any citizen being “ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed and insecure”.

It’s 78 years later, and we’re prepared to let our citizens starve and freeze this year. “True individual freedom,” Roosevelt said, “cannot exist without economic security and independence”.

He warned: “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

Where Roosevelt wanted to give the people the right to economic security, Liz Truss, the frontrunner to become our unelected Prime Minister, curls her lip at desperation and need running rampant in the Britain she’s helped forge and talks of “handouts” – as if she’s the lady of the manor at Christmas, scraping leftovers from her plate into a bucket for the poor.

With grotesque patronising parsimony, Rishi Sunak reluctantly offers a few extra crumbs to suffering families. Yet nobody acknowledges that the idea of paying money to citizens because energy companies have gouged us is frankly ridiculous.

It’s like letting a lunatic slash someone with a knife, then handing them a bandage. Why not just take the knife from the lunatic? In other words, strip Ofgem of power and cap energy prices at an affordable level.

Some, like LibDem leader Ed Davey, call for a furlough style approach to the disaster; Nicola Sturgeon demands a summit with Johnson. Good on them both – at least they’re trying to advance the cause of the poor somewhat … while Johnson applies his post-holiday aftersun, and in an act of frankly criminal negligence says government won’t act until Truss or Sunak is anointed. There’s something of Nero now about Johnson – happy to watch Britain burn as he basks in rejected rage.

But in truth, all Davey and Sturgeon offer is either just talk or more unambitious ideas to alleviate the current crisis, rather than changing the system that’s to blame. And where is Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer? Waiting for Rupert Murdoch to okay whatever version of Tory-lite he comes up with tomorrow?

Imagine the politician with the guts to step forward and call for a Roosevelt-style economic bill of rights? The only part of the economy which will boom this winter is employment for bailiffs and debt collectors.

The politician who harnesses public anger and fear, and dares to change a system, which will quite literally kill people this Christmas, will ride to power. The rich have forgotten to fear the poor; whoever reminds the poor of their power will take power themselves.

Here’s the thing though: it’s not just cuddly Roosevelts who can promise to change the system for the better, it’s monsters like Adolf Hitler too. Weimar Republic hyperinflation was the taxi the Nazis caught to the Reichstag.

We’re in a moment where everything could change. The politician or party that offers salvation could, if they’re a Scottish nationalist, close the deal on independence; or, if they’re unionist, kill independence stone dead.

Everything could be altered – even Brexit. All people will care about come Christmas is their pocket. The constitution and identity politics could be rendered meaningless. Class will return as a central political issue.

If anyone thinks that what’s coming for us all financially won’t upend society, then they’re in for a shock soon. Social unrest is now a safe bet. Some politician somewhere will realise sooner or later that exploiting this crisis – whether with good intent or bad – will be their path to power.

We may then discover if the politicians of the past were really just as rotten as the politicians of the present.