Karl Marx famously pointed out history often repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. What he would make of the opening days of 2019 in austerity Britain is anyone’s guess. Tragedy and farce have become so normalised, we can barely tell them apart.

Let’s take a few of the big stories that kicked off the New Year. Be your own judge whether they count as tragic or absurd – or both at the same time.

First, we had the government’s astonishing decision to award £13.8M of taxpayers’ money to Seaborne Freight, supposedly a specialist provider of ferry services. The reason being, apparently, that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK will need extra capacity for freight and lorries shuttling to the continent.

Never mind the fact a no-deal Brexit has not been agreed and is unlikely to ever be agreed. No, all that cash must be used to scare the population into accepting Theresa May’s awful ‘deal’ with Brussels. (Yes, the one that has precious little support in Parliament or the country). Never mind, too, that Seaborne Freight own no ships and have never run a shipping service to anywhere, let alone cross-Channel.

The pantomime plot thickened when Transport Minister Chris Grayling appeared on BBC radio promising a “tightly drawn-up contract that requires them to deliver”. Also, that a rigorous process of due diligence had been followed. Yet it turns out this same contract was cut and pasted by the company from the terms and conditions of a fast food delivery website, advising customers to check goods "before agreeing to pay for any meal/order". All this, at a time when core public services are chronically underfunded.

Tragedy or farce, you decide.

Next up, The Press reports eleven homeless people died in York in 2018: six accommodated in hostels and five on the streets. According to data released by the Office of National Statistics, 40 homeless people died across Yorkshire and Humberside in that period.

The national picture is equally grim: almost 600 homeless people died in England and Wales last year, according to official figures published for the first time, representing a rise of 24% over five years.

Homelessness is clearly a complex problem, linked to multiple causes, from mental health, destitution, unaffordable housing, endemic low pay, drug and alcohol problems, and many other factors. But let us not forget most homelessness is invisible, involving families in overcrowded back rooms or suffering the misery of sofa-surfing.

What is far simpler is how those who most need help in our society are being systematically neglected by the government – especially those struggling with mental health problems, where services have been cut to the bone in order to finance tax cuts for the kind of people owning Seaborne Freight.

Yet despite the crisis in affordable housing for many folk in York, especially our younger citizens, there are those for whom housing is one big cash bonanza. At the end of 2018, it was reported the ex-boss of Persimmon Homes, Jeff Fairburn, has failed to set up a charity almost a year after pledging to do so in an attempt to divert public and political anger at his “obscene” £75m bonus. A bonus, let us be clear, largely funded by the taxpayer. A mere donation of £4.6m – 6% of his bonus – would have provided a home for all of the 58 families that were homeless in York, where Persimmon is based, at the time he trousered the cash.

Tragedy or farce, you decide.

2019 is set to be a dramatic year for our long-suffering, ill-governed country. Personally, I believe us “little people” have been too passive and accommodating since the banking crash of 2008 towards those who own and run the UK.

Shocking waste and greed seem to have become far too normal, from rip off railways and public utilities like gas and water, to our precious NHS being systematically sold off to private companies so they can extract a juicy profit.

Perhaps this year we will really look around us and draw some “red lines” about what is truly acceptable. That must not include yet more government-inspired tragedy and farce.