Fuelling Cynicism

I don't know which genius apparatchik came up with the co-ordinated campaign of the government this morning to create an atmosphere of panic-buying fuel, but they deserve all the opprobrium the non-political world has to give.

Until this morning's cabinet comments - led by Francis Maude and the Prime Minister - there was no panic buying at the pumps. That's because there is no strike and the process of setting up negotiations to avoid a fuel drivers' strike are still being pursued. But this slow development was clearly frustrating the government. Hence a decision to give the whole dispute a bit of significant media air by having cabinet ministers comment on possible fuel shortages. Clearly the aim of the comments was to push the dispute to the top of the news agenda, and then ratchet up the pressure on those eternal baddies, the unions. It has worked - up to a point. The dispute is certainly top of the agenda, and the union finds it is having to defend its position in an increasingly hostile environment. Meanwhile Francis Maude and David Cameron can point to having made ever so careful statements that really, honestly, truly tried to avoid setting off any panic. Except, of course, that anyone with even a baseline knowledge of how media whispers work will have known that panic is exactly what would set in. And it suits the government that it should do, because it exposes the unions to far more severe public pressure.

Neither side comes out of this very well. Unite, in targeting the Easter break for their possible action, have certainly forfeited public support, even if they can claim - legitimately - that they are playing hard-ball to defend their members' interests. But the government? Cameron's machine has executed a piece of political spin that is breathtaking in its cynicism. It stands comparison with anything that the Blairites managed to achieve - may even outrank them.

To wilfully whisk up a cocktail of fuel panic buying to further their political agenda betrays the worst nature of the political classes. Coming so soon after the disastrous revelation of donors' influence peddling via the ludicrous figure of Peter Cruddas, this should damage the image of the Cameron government beyond repair. Yet it probably won't. Not while Labour remain mired in such a leaderless state of mediocre miasma. But in three years' time, when the clean-cut Etonian is after our votes, we might do well to remember the way he threw us into a domestic turmoil for his own ends. It's not quite up there with such callous treachery as the falsification of evidence to generate an unnecessary war; but it shows the right mind-set.


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