Magazine article The Spectator

Right to Revolt

Magazine article The Spectator

Right to Revolt

Article excerpt

The Prime Minister is personally engaged in the matter. Therefore there can no longer be any doubt as to the outcome. It will be a triumph for Tony Blair. Ever since he strode to the podium in Downing Street on Tuesday, chin clenched, the fate of the truckers was sealed. Sometime in the next few days he will prevail. The police will do their business, as they did at Wapping and during the 1984 miners' strike, and at other moments in the Thatcherian imperium which Blair tries so hard to emulate. `We're moving again!' the tabloid newspapers will say; or `Now we're really motoring!' and Tony will be thanked for the return of the oil, in geysers of gushing gratitude.

In a few days' time, perhaps, we will hardly remember that Britain was reduced to the kind of panic-buying associated with a dearth of soap powder in Cold War eastern Europe. Soon, if Blair gets his way, there will be nothing left of the great fuel tax rebellion; nothing, but a half-embarrassed memory of the end of the silly season, when we came back from our holidays having apparently picked up a herd-maddening virus in France, and it took Tony Blair to bring us to our senses. Before the protest has quite fizzled out, therefore, it might be an idea to examine why it broke out, and why, in the space of 24 hours, a gang of largely peaceable farmers, truckers and taxi-drivers were able to bring Britain to the brink of collapse.

Looking at the performance of the British economy this week, one can only thank heavens the Russians did not invade us. It seems that it requires only a few tractors to blockade Ellesmere Port, and the cardiovascular system of Britain goes into spasm. The manoeuvre was so simple, in fact - like the Vulcan nerve-pinch administered by Mr Spock, which rendered his opponents senseless - that it all looks rather theatrical. There has certainly been play-acting by the oil companies, which have not conspicuously urged their drivers to beat the blockades. The police have been mystifyingly lethargic in ensuring that the Queen's highway is clear. As for members of the public, they have shown extraordinary phlegm, happily stocking up on staple foods and evincing the Blitz spirit on which this country prides itself.

One reason for this, of course, is that the revolting truckers and their supporters have provided the nation with an unbeatable excuse for staying away from the office. How many have rung in from their deckchairs to say they are awfully sorry, but the needle's pointing to empty and they simply can't risk coming in? But the main explanation for public sangfroid is that 95 per cent, according to some polls, support the protest, at least in the sense that they believe fuel taxes are high, and should come down. …

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