If any group of people were left looking more idiotic than the Government after its bungled handling of the only alleged fuel crisis, it was the general public.
Whipped up into a frenzy by a media all too happy to get stuck into the administration that brought them the Leveson Inquiry, the scenes outside filling stations have been unedifying to say the least.
The Government, of course, was on a hiding to nothing. There is clear evidence that the more the public is prepared for disruption to their lives, the less disruption there is; so saying nothing really didn’t look like an option. If you think the coalition’s had a kicking in the last week, it would be as a small tap on the wrists compared to what would have happened had the tanker drivers walked out over Easter and it had done nothing to ameliorate the effects. On the other hand while it may have had no choice but to walk into the lion’s den, it didn’t need to baste itself in gravy before opening the gate.
But back to the petrol-buying public. On the strength of some crassly expressed but essentially sensible advice that it might be an idea to top up your tank in the not too distant future and in the face of little more than a veiled threat of a strike at some unspecified time, half the country appears to have taken that as their opportunity to indulge in a spot of Britain’s favourite national pastime, queuing for hours to fill their tanks with fuel they probably didn’t need for journeys they probably wouldn’t take just so that if the tanks did run dry, it’d be some other poor sod who couldn’t get to work.
I wonder how many of them saw any kind of irony in what they were doing, sitting there engines on, waiting to replace some or more of the fuel they’d burned getting to the fuel station in the first place.
What staggers me is that all these people have not only the time to indulge in this neurosis, but the inclination. In the face of all available facts enough people up and down the country still could not think of a single more profitable use of their time than to go and sit in a queue to more than double fuel sales on at least one day last week.
Of course many of those who did invest all that time and fuel getting to the station and then sitting endlessly outside it were rewarded by the discovery upon eventual arrival at the pumps that they’d been programmed to release only twenty quid’s worth of fuel at a time.
And all for what? As I write this the threat of a strike appears to be receding, and even if there is industrial action it is at least a fortnight away, by which time all that fuel will have long gone up in smoke.
So who comes out of this not smelling of something you trod in? Not the tanker drivers or their union. Not the government or its opportunistic Opposition. Not the fuel-filling public and certainly not the forecourt owners who put their prices up in response. Only those who did what seemed blindingly obvious and kept calm and carried on.
If this is what the country does at the merest sniff of a suggestion of a short-term threat to its status quo, God help us when something serious goes wrong.