So it’s all over bar the
shouting - and re-filling the petrol stations of course. There are never great
victories or immediate sweeping changes as a result of confrontations like
this, the immediate result is nearly always a withdrawal by both sides, bruised
but hopefully much wiser. Now only time will tell whether it was all worth it -
but I certainly hope it will turn out to be so. Perhaps it’s time to
re-consider what it was all about and to ask was it worth the hassle?
There are two quite different
price issues - one about the high cost of fuel in Britain compared with the rest
of Europe and one about the endlessly escalating cost of simply being mobile.
So the first of the main
grumbles is that fuel is so expensive here compared with our European cousins.
This is undoubtedly true but is actually quite difficult to measure - should we
simply look at how many pound notes we need to change to fill our tanks or
should we relate the price of a litre to the average wage for instance? In
practice it must surely be the simple currency conversion that is of importance even though it
is complicated by European currency exchange rates. Why? - well because this is
not just about our holiday petrol it affects businesses and the economy as well
Let me give you one example - I
have a customer who runs a medium size haulage business, he runs trucks in the
UK and in Europe, on long hauls his major cost is fuel and he is now having to
compete with European haulage companies for much of the business. How can he
compete when Belgian truckers pay 42.6 p per litre for diesel while he pays
about 80p?! So without major fuel price changes what are the options? - his
customers could pay him more than they would a foreign company and our cost of
living goes up (all our goods are delivered using diesel) - he can lose part of
the business to foreign competition with a loss of British jobs and prosperity -
or he can move half his business overseas to take advantage of the lower
European prices, again with a loss of British jobs and prosperity. Not much of
a choice for US is it? And not the ‘level playing field’ much talked
about when we want to get the Europeans to change something for our
I know there’s a compelling
case for increasing fuel prices to put pressure on greater fuel economy for
environmental reasons and I support it - up to a point. BUT there’s no point jumping off a
cliff saying “I’ve saved the planet” if your neighbours are still there using
cheaper fuel and saying “what a wally!” We have to move forward together with
such a grand plan, not necessarily all being the same, but at least playing in
the same league.
There were of course widespread
protests in Europe, not just in Britain, so there’s a second issue here too and
that is the crippling rate of increase in fuel prices at a time when inflation
and wage rises are generally very low. This effect is being felt throughout
Europe whether we start with 40p or 80p. But why should we worry here in
what’s happening in France or Belgium or Germany? We should be
concerned because if their protests
are heard as seems likely at least in France, the differential will become even
greater and our economy will suffer even more as a result of losing great chunks
of our haulage infrastructure to European companies. We’ve already lost most of
our manufacturing base surely we’re not going to give away our import/export
Europe aside, many of us feel
that we are paying too much too quickly and would like to see equal effort
applied elsewhere to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
Without wishing to enter into a whole new debate here, what about - waste incinerator
plants for city heating - unnecessary all night road lighting - wave power -
insulation grants - even minister’s Jags? There’s not much sign of any
government urgency on these issues, is there? I could go on and on - but I’ll
spare you that.
There’s a real political cost too, I’m not taking up any particular political cudgel but I seem to
remember that politicians who cease to listen to their electorate are doomed -
we all know what happened over the poll tax and to the ‘lady who was not for
turning’! The PM’s own Website has a forum area with the slogan “for the many
not the few”. He should check out
www.sky.com/news where their survey revealed
92% in favour of the government backing down and 85.7% supporting the blockades
- the many have spoken!
Nor are we as naïve and
uninformed as `politicians seem to think, we are fully aware of the OPEC effect
and of the fact that it is British taxation that produces the great differential
between Europe and ourselves. So what we want from Mr Blair is not some
carefully planned ‘spin’ put on minimal action but a real response to the views
expressed by the majority of the British people and preferably announced within
the 60 days now proposed by the protesters.
‘Real response’ means a plan to
bring us into line with the European G7 nations - that means unleaded at less
than 70p and diesel at around 50p - so come on Tony, let’s see some real action
in place of the spin.
In the meantime, lads - well
done, well executed and brilliant timing for the suspension for 60 days.