Published on 28 Mar 2012

A jerry can of woes

One minister told me that some in the government were showing signs of seeing the possible tanker drivers’ strike as “their miners’ strike” moment and were convinced that Unite was pushing for cross-company collective bargaining in order to achieve pinch points to shut the country down.

The government thinks “safety” is a catchy word thrown in late into Unite’s grievance list to grab public sympathy.

Francis Maude on Radio 4 earlier tried to row back from his earlier suggestion that people keep a jerry can of petrol in the garage. The excellent Martha Kearney pointed out that the 20 litre capacity of a jerry can exceeded the legal limit for privately stored petrol.

Francis Maude said that was “absurdly technical” but people should act sensibly and stay within the law. Asked if the government was in danger of triggering a stampede for petrol exacerbating the problems he said it is “difficult to get this balance right” in the language you use.

Read more: UK tanker strike threatens petrol station chaos

You don’t have to look for long at the training days required for army tanker drivers to see there’s a race against time here. If Unite pressed the button for strike action to happen before or at Easter the government would not be very well placed – one minister put it a little more graphically to me.

But Whitehall is hoping/praying that Unite won’t want to hit its own members’ Easter holidays. The difference between discomfort and disaster could hinge on that.

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7 reader comments

  1. Redndead says:

    Cross company collective bargainIng? Sounds like conspiracy to me

  2. Philip Edwards says:


    The tanker drivers would do well to remember the lessons of the miners strike…..but not lessons the Tories would prefer.

    Firstly, the miners strike was provoked deliberately by the Tories. The plan was clearly described in an article by Nicholas Ridley in The Economist edition of 27th May 1978.

    Secondly, Arthur Scargill walked straight into the trap and mistimed and mismanaged the strike badly.

    Thirdly, Scargill’s warnings were all borne out by later events. BEFORE the strike he said the mining industry was about to be privatised, tens of thousands of jobs lost and hundreds of mining communities reduced to poverty. This all came true.

    Fourthly, miners solidarity was splintered by creation of the Nottinghamshire UDM led by Roy Lynx. This in turn was betrayed by the Tories.

    The results of all of this – aided by the Falklands War – was the most reactionary antisocial government in living memory, fronted by Margaret Thatcher and her cronies.

    The tanker drivers would do well think how they conduct their campaign. Their cause is just: their tactics should reflect it.

  3. Mudplugger says:

    It seems, clumsy briefings apart, that this Government has at least learnt some lessons from earlier fuel-supply crises.

    By noisily raising the flag so early, they have successfully alerted the public to a potential problem – not yet a certainty, but a feasible risk. The public has responded as predicted, getting all their panic-buying done ahead of time (while there is still plenty of fuel in the supply-chain) and, equally importantly, recognising the need to keep vehicles brimmed until any risk has passed.

    So, if/when the strike does occur, much of the immediate public pressure will be diluted by having had time to establish stocks and plan ahead. It would still be disruptive (troops can only ever maintain supplies to essential services), but the critical public heat will have been taken out of the situation.

    In the early 1980s, Margaret Thatcher prepared for the miners’ strike by quietly building up distributed stocks of coal where needed – this is what the Coalition is doing, it’s just that these stocks are being cunningly distributed in brim-full cars, personal garages and a host of jerry cans. Same problem, same solution.

    1. Ste says:

      You DO realise that in order for that level of planning to work that people would now have to either not drive or top their cars up as they did before – strikes are announced seven days in advance. There’s been no strike announcement, indeed UNITE have said there will be no Easter strike. So what will happen next time if there’s no strike this time? Will people think the Government is just crying “Wolf” again?

      The problem the people have now is that if a strike is announced for, say, 14th April, they’ll have to go through all the panic-buying ritual all over again then – and pockets are squeezed tight enough at the moment. We’re going to have people buying petrol instead of food – fuel poverty *chuckle*

  4. Saltaire Sam says:

    The government’s over-reaction to the possibility of a strike is typical of their attitude on who is important in our society.

    While the majority have their pay frozen or reduced, or worse, their jobs taken away, the wealthy are rewarded with tax breaks because they are seen as the people who create growth.

    Any move by ordinary people to improve their lot by withdrawing their labour (all they’ve got considering they can’t afford the £200k to talk to Cameron over pasties at No10) is seen as wrecking the economy.

    But if a strike by workers can wreck the economy, doesn’t that suggest they are a bit more important in the creation of growth than they are given credit for and perhaps deserve a slightly bigger share of the goodies?

    It’s time the government (the last was as bad) stopped looking through the telescope of the rich benefitting the poor by giving them jobs, but turned it round and realised the bosses are helpless and worth not a penny unless the people on the shop floor do their work.

    You could charge £200k for a letter, but if there’s no postie to deliver it, that letter will never arrive and the post office will never be profitable.

  5. Saltaire Sam says:

    Personally, I was going to fill the bath with petrol but then realised that, living in Yorkshire (home of the Cornish pastie, according to Cameron) the bath is filled with coal.

    1. Mudplugger says:

      And nowadays, pretty much the only place you can have a peaceful smoke is in the bath – take care, Sam.

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