Ministers change petrol advice

Petrol pumps
Political pressure grows as more and more cars queue on forecourts Photo: ITV Meridian

“Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring!”

Corporal Jones always used to shout that when it was too late. And today, with the Government urging the country not to panic, Westminster feels a bit like Walmington-on-Sea.

As Dorset police tell petrol stations in the county to shut down for a while, and motorists across the south queue up to beat a strike that hasn’t been called yet, you could be forgiven for expecting the ARP warden to turn up any moment to commandeer the church hall for an emergency drill.

The Government aren’t laughing though.

Their strategy must have seemed harmless enough when they came up with it: there might be a strike at Easter, so it makes sense for drivers to make sure they have enough fuel in their tank. Good advice to avoid a rash of panic-buying if and when the strike actually starts.

But of course as soon as politicians mention the possibility of a fuel shortage, it’s all cars to the pumps. When Government minister and MP for Horsham Francis Maude suggests filling up jerry-cans – those jerries don’t like it up ‘em! – panic spreads.

As Captain Mainwaring would have said: “Stupid boy”.

Today’s bizarre advice from the Energy Secretary – keep your tank two-thirds full – just confuses everyone. Why two-thirds? Why not half? Why not full?

People planning to get away in their cars for Easter are worried – and filling up while they can.

The result is that if there is a strike at Easter, most motorists will already have full tanks, so it’ll take longer than normal for the strike to bite.

Although, of course, there might not be a strike at all.

What it teaches us is that politicians are terrified of problems at the petrol pumps. The fuel blockade of 2000 sends a cold shiver down their spines. The country came very close, very quickly, to grinding to a halt.

Today, motorists are queuing, petrol stations are closing and jerry-cans are filling up.

“Don’t panic!” the politicians tell us.

But many motorists remember the words of Private Frazer – “we’re all doomed!”.

And they’re setting off to join the queues – just in case.