My heart sank when I heard Ed Davey telling the nation to fill its petrol tanks. It seemed very likely, tipping over into obvious, that Ed Davey’s statements would feed into the kind of behaviour that we have seen in recent days, and it’s disturbingly clear that the coalition government had taken a position to promote the topping-up of tanks. That was a serious miscalculation of the likely results.
What proportion of motorists fill up less often than once a week? I suspect that it’s a minority. So what is the point of advice to top up a minimum of seven days ahead of any actual strike? It has to be said that the union is handling this in an apparently “responsible” way – ‘let’s negotiate, no strike over Easter, we want to talk’.
Contingency plans to ensure supplies for emergency services make perfect sense, and that is the government’s job. And, of course, Unite promised to ensure those supplies from the day they announced the ballot result. But government advice to top-up but not queue is silly, and has resulted in fuel shortages where there was no need for any.
It seems to have been a coalition decision to push the “top-up” policy. Training army drivers for tanker duties, negotiating guaranteed supplies for public services (but not individual teachers, nurses, etc – that’s impossible) is the job of government. People would notice and start to top-up a bit more often.
But several days of the “top-up” policy is just mad. It’s changing now, but the damage is done. Lib Dem ministers should ponder how illogical this whole escapade has been, and how they may have been included in a campaign to demonise a union which might, just possibly, be engaged in a legitimate demand.
* Ed was a Young Liberal in the late 1960s, a supporter on and off over the years and finally rejoined the party in 2010.