The 2000 fuel crisis is no guide to 2021

·2-min read
 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

Back in September 2000 during the fuel crisis, a poll found that 78 per cent of respondents said they supported the protesters’ actions.

Less surprisingly, that figure fell to 36 per cent if essential services were adversely affected. Which is a bit like being strongly in favour of the consumption of cake, but against the consequence of getting fat.

That crisis eased fairly rapidly, as public opinion turned sharply. In his memoirs, Tony Blair writes that part of government strategy was to deprive the protestors of the moral high ground by drawing attention to the impact on the NHS, which was running short on supplies. Nurses were sent to picket lines to argue with picketers. It worked.

But it is not so simple this time, for the cause of this crisis is less easy to fix. The shortages are not a result of direct action taken by protestors who can give up and go home, but a chronic lack of HGV drivers which has fuelled an explosion of panic buying.

Let’s not blame Brexit for a minute. Even prior to our exit from the European Union, Britain faced a shortfall of 76,000 hauliers, according to Logistics UK, the trade body for the sector.

And Driver Require - a specialist driving agency whose excellent report I got lost in for about half an hour this morning when I should have been writing the leader column - notes that 55,000 British HGV drivers left the industry during the pandemic, with an astonishing 40,000 in the first quarter of this year. Why?

Well, it’s a tough job with anti-social hours and as the report suggests, many were in self-isolation, furloughed or simply may have realised they preferred other options to driving for a living.

And with better working conditions in a number of EU countries, it is far from clear whether those three-month visas will incentivise European hauliers to drop everything to come over and fix our problems, especially when wages are rising on the continent as well.

Elsewhere in the paper, Keir Starmer is grappling with a chronic case of NDS* (that’s nightmare deputy syndrome), according to Susannah Butter.

In the comment pages, Matthew d’Ancona writes that ‘Twitterfication’ and the tyranny of the hashtag has undermined the foundation stone of liberal democracy.’ Meanwhile, Melanie McDonagh wants you to know that your commute is good for you.

And finally, we rank every James Bond theme song from best to worst. All opinions are valid but our number one is correct and we are not taking feedback at this time.

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