'Don't panic. Don't panic'

Clive Dunn as Corporal Jones in BBC's Dad's Army Is the government's response right?

Ministers risk looking like Corporal Jones in TV's Dad's Army as their insistence that there is no need to panic about the possibility of an impending strike by tanker drivers looks like, well, panic.

It's clear that Francis Maude went more than a little off-piste when he suggested motorists might consider filling up a "jerry can" and putting it in the garage, as well as filling up their tank.

However, it's also clear that the government has had a strategy since the weekend - and well before the Tory funding allegations emerged - of encouraging stories which might persuade car drivers to stock up with petrol.

On Sunday, for example, the BBC and some newspapers ran reports about troops being trained to drive tankers in the event of a strike.

When ministers met to plan for a possible fuel strike they were warned that, since the fuel blockade in 2000, many petrol stations had closed and, therefore, petrol stocks outside the refineries were much lower.

They were also told that people who normally drive around with their tanks less than a third full increased that to more than four-fifths during the last strike.

Hot issue

Thus, they concluded that if they could get drivers to fill up long before a strike they could significantly increase the nation's stock of fuel and decrease the impact of a strike. Tory folklore recalls that one reason Mrs Thatcher defeated the miners' strikes of 1984 was because she had made contingency plans and built up coal stocks outside the mines.

So, there was, if you like, an attempt to induce slow, steady, controlled panic buying of petrol long before the tanker driver's union, Unite, even name a strike date - which incidentally it hasn't done yet, and still may not.

What today has revealed is that - as the contradictory nature of those words suggest - panics are rarely slow, steady and controlled, particularly if a minister goes off his script and the media latches onto a narrative about a government that is making mistakes and looking out of touch.

PS The suggestion that people have garages and jerry cans will now surely be added to the "out of touch" charge sheet being assembled by the government's critics.

On it already are the revelation that the chancellor can't remember when he last bought a pasty from Greggs, that you can eat them tax free if they're cold, that the ex-Tory treasurer suggested that a quarter of a million pounds bought you a place at a donor party with the Camerons.

The Conservatives must be counting the days until the Easter holidays. Labour must think it's Christmas already.

Talking of which I'm away for a few days now, so service will be a little less regular than normal.

Nick Robinson, Political editor Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

The Europe 'bomb' goes off

Douglas Carswell's defection to UKIP is a body blow for Prime Minister David Cameron, says BBC political editor Nick Robinson.

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Nick


Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Are you struck as I am with the paradox of the Tories constant assertion that private is good and public bad. So why do we need public sector drivers to strike break. What difference will 80 drivers make apart from ensuring that there are adequate supplies for the ministerial limos.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Cameron's "BIG SOCIETY" is going to require the "BIG JERRYCAN" to stock up.

    I wonder what the H & S guidance is, on the storage of petrol ?

    Ho-Hum !

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Strikes me that the government is pretending to be in charge.

    Whilst washing its hands of any responsibility.

    It can't have it both ways?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Still think there's more going on here than simply 'incompetence'. If nothing else it means that the strike will have to be delayed until all the stuff people have stocked up on has run out else it will have limited the intended impact of it.

    This is either political cunning or political luck, I'm not sure which.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    What are the so called government trying to prove. This combination of parties is not working clearly both pulling in opposite directions! How long can it last, hopefully not much longer, the only reason they are together is the Tories could not get a clear mandate from the electorate and the Libs are taking their only opportunity of power. Pensioners unite when that day comes Tories OUT.


Comments 5 of 481


This entry is now closed for comments


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.