ACCORDING to a whole array of independent forecasters, the Chancellor's previous predictions of an economic contraction could soar to as much as 3 per cent of GDP this year - up from his earlier forecast in November's pre-Budget report of a slowdown of between 0.75 per cent and 1.25 per cent in 2009.
Now, clearly the biggest issue in the Budget will be the crisis in Britain's public finances, with the government's borrowing soaring to record levels.
But there's not a lot that Alistair Darling can do to remedy that without raising taxes on the rich, the very rich and the straight-out filthy rich, and that he certainly won't do, given his past form.
That's just about cast-iron, watching his and the Prime Minister's performances over tax havens.
It's not that long ago that the government was going to launch an all-out offensive on these nasty little enclaves.
What actually happened was that a few unspecified agreements were arrived at, much wind and much hot air without any real substance, but no great exodus of the rich occurred.
There was no huge exodus from the Maldives, with the parasites strapping their possessions on their backs and claiming refugee status in the People's Republic of Wall Street.
And no-one has reported the collapse of the Swiss banking system as the secret squirrels of the financial world rush to conceal their dirty assets.
Labour will claim that it's a long process and it's a work in progress. Others may think that it was always so much smoke and mirrors, rather like the kerfuffle over Sir Fred's pension, and was simply on the agenda to provide a veneer of egalitarianism over the mind-boggling cash handouts to the incompetent bankers.
So, back to Mr Darling. What does it seem that he is doing? Why, according to most reports, he is contemplating yet another Â£15 billion in "efficiency savings" in the public sector.
And we all know what that means. On top of almost 80,000 job losses already incurred by his last rush of blood to the head, we have to expect another public-sector blood-letting.
Over 500 jobcentres and benefit offices have closed over the last five years, hampering the government's ability to respond to recession by helping the unemployed victims of capitalism's excesses.
And the massive increases which a new round of public-sector redundancies will inflict on benefit claimant numbers and mortgage defaults certainly won't help to increase demand.
Let's face it, the only people calling for public-sector cutbacks have been the Tories and the CBI, so that tells us fairly clearly where Mr Darling's coming from if these rumours are to be believed.
As PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka points out: "In this week's Budget, the government should be talking about creating jobs across the economy and increasing the support for people hit by the recession."
Instead, it looks like Mr Darling is plumping for attacking the public sector to pay for the failings of private capital.
It is to be hoped that these rumours are all the product of over-fertile imaginations on the part of the capitalist press and Mr Darling's Budget speech will announce huge support for industry, the rebuilding of the jobcentres network to sevice capital's victims and aid for the unemployed.
Hope, they say, springs eternal...
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