'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 Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    personally I'd rather the people, driving on the same roads as me, towing 8000 gallons of fuel & filling my local petrol station were well trained & experienced at their job. The dispute was caused by a free market & in effect deregulation being introduced to deliveries, ideas the Tories feel obliged to support to the extent of an overzealous backing for the employers prior to arbitration

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    "Your 'real' message is?"

    The world has changed!

    Govt has not the ability to impose its will without the acquiescence of the market. You will deplore that assertion but it is true (as evidenced clearly in the EZ)

    Govt must now yield to global reality and adjust accordingly. The race to the bottom is not an abstract construct. Accept & prosper or resist & wither?

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    menin 475
    On second thoughts, just imagine what the Humpreys might do if the Coalition seriously annoy them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    John_Bull @474
    Point missed?

    Is it working, your aspiration? Making worthwhile, employing others, keeping afloat, expanding, diversifying?

    Or held back by taxes, XS-roads, healthcare, not paid for by foreign competitors or employees?

    If you have found 'a niche', is it 'protected' by off-shore distance: unable to earn the foreign exchange to feed holiday habits?

    Your 'real' message is?

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    menin 475
    Oscar may have been right after all.


Comments 5 of 481



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