Why oh why didn't I panic buy? I watch Britain's Got Talent! I know who Gazza is! Hell, I may never have made a purchase from Greggs but I've eaten a pasty in my time! I hang with the crowd! I do things other people do! So, dammit, why didn't I join the long and hazardous queues for diesel that materialised last Thursday morning in my local town?
There were many reasons. First, I was on my way to London with nearly half a tank of fuel and I had no time to queue. Second, I really, truly didn't think that British people would react to a putative strike at some undefined point in the future by choking the forecourts with jerry cans and jam jars to tap the pumps dry. Third, my natural instinct is to reject the advice or instruction from anybody in authority - just ask the therapist currently treating me for a herniated disc.
A few days later and not one garage within a 20 mile radius of my rural home has any diesel.
My car has been abandoned at my nearest supermarket garage which has promised to call when they have their next delivery; I'm hoping that happens before I need to make the ninety mile round trip to work.
On the radio calm voices assure me that the panic buying has eased and supplies are getting back to normal, but across communities far away from the magic circle of the M25, people are still without fuel. Since they are also without decent public transport many are stuck at home unable to visit friends, do the shopping or indeed, get to work. Weddings and other special events have been cancelled while jerry cans full of fuel sit on shelves in sheds nationwide waiting to combust. I'm thinking of the whole hideous mess as the trailer for a post-peak-oil-production future.
Right now though, there is no actual shortage of fuel; nobody has actually gone on strike and, in a bitter sweet reversal, the Unite members whose potential action precipitated this engineered crisis, actually look less like tanker drivers and more like white knights working EU regulation-breaking eleven hour shifts to save us all from ourselves.
Francis Maude must be sitting at his kitchen table, head in hands, unable to face supper. It's all gone so terribly, terribly wrong. An attempt to defeat a union in one of those class-baiting battles of the traditional variety, has ended with a nation in panic, a woman fighting for her life and the alienation of an increasingly sceptical electorate. In anybody's book this was a catastrophic political judgement and a clear indication that, at best, Maude and his cohorts are not fit for purpose and at worst are manipulative schemers exploiting the trust and fear of the people they purport to serve.
Tory strategy since their election in 2010 has been to set one section of the community against another; public sector against private, working people against those on benefits, and everybody against the poor, because instead of hating poverty, we have been encouraged to hate the impoverished. Meanwhile, the very wealthy watch ringside, marvelling at how cheap their ticket was, kitchen suppers on laps.
In Maude's script, the endgame of this match against Unite was to have been a minister, standing outside ACAS shaking his head, decrying the failure of talks and claiming union members are holding the country to ransom. Every car owner among us was to have joined in the condemnation of workers led by the tabloids and ramped up by rolling news images of picket lines and empty forecourts. No mention that this is a dispute in its second year or that the only talks thus far embarked upon by government have not included Unite representatives.
Deflecting accountability is what this administration does best: find a scapegoat, groom it for widespread media coverage and throw it to the public to shred, pausing only to stand back and watch the approval ratings rise. Think back to the riots of last summer.
The violence and looting was allowed to escalate by poor, or cynical judgements made by police facing deep cuts at the hands of the coalition. This is not however, the finding of a report out last week which finds that in fact, schools were to blame for the riots, because they "failed to give pupils a stake in society and therefore no reason to stay out of trouble." When in doubt, blame the schools. Michael Gove does it all the time. The important thing is never, ever to accept responsibility for anything that happens on your watch.
When a woman lies in the burns unit because Francis Maude wanted a 'Thatcher moment' the nation should be up in arms, not queueing with complicity. Riot anyone? Oops, obvious problem: no petrol for our bombs...
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