Sunday, 22 April 2012

Sinking of Titanic and The banking crisis.

The 15th April 1912, at 3:40 GMT (11:40 Ship's time) RMS Titanic struck the Iceberg and two hours and forty minutes later she slipped beneath the waves taking some 1500 souls with her through drowning, injuries or exposure to the freezing cold waters of the North Atlantic, only 800 survived mostly from the First Class passengers.

As I mulled over the centenary I wanted to write something about it. I decided a potted History was a waste of time, especially as Walter Lord's excellent A night to remember and The night lives on cannot be surpassed. Instead, as a trailer for Made in Chelsea came on I began to think about Class divide and differences as well as the disaster itself and there are some striking similarities between the sinking of the liner and the current banking crisis.

For example, both were predicted in advance. Titanic was in a book entitled Futility: The sinking of the Titan, and the banking crisis by economists such as Dr Vince Cable. The banking system and the Titanic were not considered infallible but it was considered that nothing could do the amount of damaged needed to cause disaster. With Titanic it was obviously the Iceberg and the banks it was Lehman brothers.
Arguably Mr William McMaster Murdoch, the First Officer from Dalbeattie in South west Scottland, who held the duty watch at the time did all that could be done to avoid the catastrophe much like his fellow Countrymen Darling and Brown did with the banks although all three's conduct is open to interpretation as to whether they did the right thing or not.

A joint effort was taken on by Mr Lightholler, 2nd Officer on the Starboard side who was professional and strict observing "Women and Children First" as "Only" and the slightly more flexible and personable Murdoch who allowed men into life boats to fill them, an interesting Coalition of ideas, however the damage was done and nothing they could do would rectify the situation.

The point of comparison that really stuck in my head is that of Class struggle. Now, I'm no Marxist, nor am I a rabid left winger who bemoans class struggle and the Rich oppression of the poor, however there are things that anger the working/middle classes. On Titanic it made logical sense to evacuate the top decks (upper classes) first and unfortunately with the lack of life boats there was always going to be a small amount of lower classes getting off the ship as she foundered. There are also rumours of doors being locked to stop the 3rd Class passengers reaching the boat deck, again this is a sensible if harsh measure to stop a rising panic and crowds rushing the boat deck and putting more people in danger.
Before the banking crisis this notion of class was slowly dwindling but since money has become scarce it has swiftly been redefined. Upper classes are no longer necessarily land owners but those with large incomes (the middle being somewhere between £20k-£40k p.a) and those at the bottom on low incomes and usually renting or living in Council properties.
It is being argued, and I do tend to agree, that the Rich are getting away with a lot more than those on a lower income and there is only so much budgeting a house hold can do before you begin to feel the bite. Thus it does tend to grate on sensibilities when ever I see a trailer for Made in Chelsea and the young rich people are off on yet another holiday or whiskey tasting in the West end, or another champagne party and my family will be lucky if we get to go away at all this year, I can't really justify the price of one bottle of beer let alone a bottle of wine.

I know the Government are putting in measures to tax the richer especially with the new budget but it does seem that yet again the Rich and upper classes are abandoning ship and leaving us, the 3rd class passengers behind to deal with the worst part.

Just to complete the analogy I need to talk of the crew. The highest percentage of those lost aboard were the Ship's company. After all 50% of the Deck officers were killed, most of the Engineers, firemen, stewards, lift attendants, 50% of the Radio operators... In the analogy it is the Civil servants who take on the position of the crew (We do help run the nation after all!) and again they are suffering too. When it comes to cuts Government automatically looks at cutting the fat from the public sector and again they need to look at what needs to be done. Who needs museums over hospitals? *cut*
Who needs x thousand waste disposal guys when Y hundred can do it *cut*
We need to change the pension scheme *Cut*
As a low level civil servant in a dicey section of the public sector, I'm waiting for the axe to fall in my direction and leave me stricken on the liner one of the many who will suffer.

It may be a bleak analogy, but it is interesting. I don't know I may spend too much thinking about things on the train and not rationalising it all properly but that is how it feels.

This nation is sinking into the black icy waters of recession and it does seem that only the Rich and upper echelons are going to get away from it and suffer only a small amount and it is us the crew and working classes who are going to suffer.


  1. An interesting comparison - certainly not one I can really add to.


    Given the Titanic fanatic that I am, I feel compelled to correct a couple of famous misconceptions (popularised by film - in particular James Cameron's Titanic).

    "...there was always going to be a small amount of lower classes getting off the ship as she foundered..."

    The key word that is often missed when considering the class divide in fatalities is comparatively. Numerically, 202 First Class souls were saved whilst 178 Third Class souls were saved - not a lot of difference in the number of survivors. What is key, though, is the survival rate: 62% of First Class passengers survived whilst just 25% of Third Class passengers survived. That's where the gulf lies.

    Similarly, the Third Class passengers were hampered in their survival by the maze of passageways far below decks - trying to find their way past the locked gates separating the classes to the gates leading to their deck.

    Whilst the fact that the gates were not unlocked due to the gravity of the situation not being recognised by the crew, the idea that they were locked to stop the lower classes "escaping" was wrong. American paranoia (shock horror!) meant migrant ships were forced to keep migrants (in steerage) separate from the First and Second Class passengers for fear of spreading lice.

    1. Absolutely, its all down to ratios and with such a high amount of steerage and the small amount of lifeboat spaces (even though she carried more life boats than she was lawfully told to) they were never going to all escape.

      Another often forgotten fact is that some of the boats were detailed to go to the rear of the ship to the openning ports and take people at sea level from below decks. Third Officer Pittman took his boat down there but no one ever openned the hatches so to avoid suction they left for a safe distance!

      I'm a bit rusty but I was a bit of a Titanic geek in my teenage years too!!!