Remember the 1930s? A silly question, I know, but nearly everyone has a sort of folk memory of hunger marches, grim austerity, desperate unemployment and general misery, all captured in sepia prints where you can almost touch the grime. But was it really like that?

My former colleague George Trefgarne has been grubbing through the history, and in a paper for the CPS, paints a rather different picture. From the depths of depression in 1931, recovery had turned to boom by the middle of the decade, with growth averaging 4% between 1934 and 1939. Unemployment halved between 1932 and 1937. Much of the gain came before re-armament, from the tax and economic policies of the National Government.

No paper from the CPS was likely to suggest that the answer to depression is more tax, borrow and spend, and sure enough, the conclusion here is that spending cuts work. Benefits and civil service salaries were cut by 10% and the Budget was balanced. Today’s “savage cuts” might best be described as going less fast in the wrong direction.

Another key difference is the treatment of those who helped cause the mess in the first place. In the 1930s, a number of high profile trials helped the public feel that some measure of justice was being done. Stripping Fred Goodwin of his K hardly assuages the public anger at the bankers today.

As Chancellor, Neville Chamberlain took some of the hardest decisions. He said that “the quicker we can put down Bleak House, the sooner we can embark on Great Expectations.” Unfortunately, only a tiny fraction of today’s voters would have the slightest idea what he was talking about.