Petrol Price

Petrol Price

Beware, Boris: when you annoy drivers, you risk losing your electoral base

History shows the public put up will put up with a lot - but never petrol shortages

9/24/2021 11:14:00 PM

⛽ 'People expect petrol supplies to be plentiful and accessible at all times, and if they’re not, they will resort to the ballot box' | Writes MrTCHarris

History shows the public put up will put up with a lot - but never petrol shortages

It’s understandable, in a way: had the 2016 referendum gone the other way, no doubt those who yearned for Brexit would be leaping on every unfortunate utterance of Ursula Von Der Leyen and the European elite to predict the imminent arrival of the EU superstate and the end of the nation state as we know it.

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But there’s something peculiarly self-loathing about those who drool at the prospect of food and petrol shortages now that suppliers are finding it hard to recruit cheap-as-chips drivers to carry goods around the country. What’s their end game, I wonder? No serious party would touch the issue of rejoining the EU – not in the current generation, anyway. Is the thrill of repeating “I told you so!” on social media three or four times each day really worth the effort?

Each to his own, I suppose. In the meantime, the prospect of fuel shortages will – or ought to – attract the close attention of ministers, especially those with a long memory. In 2000, the last time severe industrial action impacted severely on supplies, the country rehearsed a skill that, in the current decade, has become second nature: panic buying.

It was not an official dispute, of course. I was due to submit myself to a selection panel for the parliamentary nomination of my local Labour party that week, and at one point was terrified that a lack of fuel would scupper my chances of attending the meeting. I finally decided that so long as there was enough petrol in my old Fiat Punto to get me to the meeting, it didn’t matter a damn if I found myself stranded by the roadside on the way back.

It was during the question and answer session that I came up with what I considered to be quite a decent sound bite: what we were witnessing was, I suggested, “the privatisation of industrial action.” The “strike” had been led and organised, not by a transport union, but by individual drivers and companies incensed by the government’s tax burden on fuel.

What most political observers recall about that week – and it’s been repeated extensively this week as fears about petrol shortages grow – is that it was the only time during William Hague’s leadership of the Conservatives when they overtook Labour in the polls. It was a brief interlude, it has to be said, and just nine months later Labour returned to government with a 160-seat majority.

Still, the lesson to be learned is that any government, however popular, can find themselves on the retreat if they look like they’re presiding over a petrol shortage. Local authorities, transport planners and various think tanks like to use the term “motorists” or “car owners” when explaining their ideas on how to move large numbers of people around the country; I prefer the term “voters”.

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Car ownership is indeed so widespread – and has been for generations, outside the metropolis of inner London – that there no longer exists any useful distinction between drivers and voters. We are decades beyond the point when, for the first time, the number of two-car families outnumbered the number of households with no car at all. So when you annoy drivers, you risk losing your electoral base.

Take, for example, the staggering levels of antipathy, or at least apathy, that exist towards Insulate UK, the self-appointed, self-righteous middle class activists who have taken it upon themselves to highlight the lack of insulated housing in the country by sitting down on motorways. No doubt a straw poll of drivers (voters) would present some interesting (though unsurprising) conclusions were they to be asked to name their priorities. Pay people to insulate their homes or make sure there’s enough fuel for me at the local Tesco filling station?

No contest.This is not to suggest that those priorities are correct, merely to point out that when policies have a severe impact on someone’s quality of life today, that trumps any fears about what might or might not happen nationally or internationally in a decade or two. The danger for governments is urgent and needs to be addressed now.

Of course, those fuel shortages may not be as severe as feared, but that won’t prevent panic buying, a skill Brits have honed in the last year and a half. The Conservatives don’t have a terrific track record on reassuring voters about such crises – remember Francis Maude’s advice to fill up a gerry can with petrol when it looked like an official truckers’ strike might be upon us in 2012?

There are two lessons to be learned from all of this. The first is that people expect petrol supplies to be plentiful and accessible at all times, and if they’re not, they will resort to the ballot box.The second is that a popular government can bounce back to election-winning levels of popularity, provided the inconvenience to drivers is temporary and short-lived.

Read more: The Telegraph »

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