We all know just how combustible petrol can be. Throw it into the hothouse of Westminster politics and you get a very volatile situation. Former Labour ministers still tremble when reminded of the fuel blockades of autumn 2000 when, for a few days, it seemed as if the government had lost control .
The opinion polls suddenly showed a huge jump in support for the Conservatives as voters questioned the competence of Labour. Since that time, all senior ministers, are aware of the importance of being seen to be in control. Hence the determination of coalition ministers to demonstrate that proper planning and resilience measures are already been put in place in case there is a strike by tanker drivers.
Unfortunately conflicting advice from ministers seems to have added to the panic rather than temper it. It’s now pretty clear that the advice from Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude that it might be sensible to keep a spare jerry can of fuel in the garage did more harm than good. Indeed the Roads Minister Mike Penning (a former fireman) has gone on the record to say that it was a mistake.
The official line now from the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, is that it would be wise for motorists to keep their fuel tank about two thirds fuel and to top up where appropriate. In more normal times, the average motorist’s tank is about a third full at any given time. Ministers are also pressing ahead with the training of additional military personnel to drive some tankers.
Labour have criticised the government’s handling as being shambolic. The coalition are seeking to put pressure on Ed Miliband to condemn the action by UNITE, the union which is the largest donor to the Labour party.
It is of course important to bear in mind that we don’t even know whether any action will actually go ahead. UNITE would also have to give 7 days notice before action could start. Who knows we might eventually end up with petrol shortages but without a tankers strike!
– Diana Holland, Assistant General Secretary, Unite
We can not have standards in this really vital sector so undermined continuously. It's a community safety issue and it's about basic standards.
Gerry will have more on this story in North East Tonight at 6pm on ITV1 Tyne Tees.