A few days ago, the Unite union threatened strike action by drivers of petrol tankers, over health-and-safety standards, and working conditions. The result was concern amongst the general public about fuel stocks over the Easter period, and possible fuel shortages, and this translated into "panic buying" of fuel, with enormous queues of cars at almost every petrol station, and many forecourts completely running out of fuel.
There has, as you might expect, been much discussion of the fuel shortage and subsequent panic buying online - particularly on Twitter. Many people have bemoaned this extreme reaction, and have questioned the rationality and responsibility of "panic buying". What has really vexed me, though, amidst this madness, is the politicisation of certain events. The idea that one can blame an entire Government for one or two individual's actions seems, to me, ludicrous. And yet...
Following the new that a woman had suffered 40% burns as a result of handling petrol in her home near York, Jayne Innes (a former Labour Parliamentary candidate, from Coventry) posted this Tweet:
Horrific news of woman seriously burned in York.Government heads must roll. #Petrolgate
— Jayne Innes (@JayneInnes) March 30, 2012
Now, I agree that it is horrific news. However, I cannot see how this unfortunate incident can be the fault of the Government. As I read it, this poor woman was trying to decant petrol from one container to another in her kitchen, using an ordinary household jug, while her gas stove was alight. The advice from Cabinet Minister Francis Maude was to store "maybe a little bit [of petrol] in the garage as well in a jerrycan" - it wasn't to wave jugs of petrol around inside the house, over a lit stove.
While I feel for Diane Hill - the petrol burns victim - and sympathise with what must be absolutely horrible injuries, there has to be some element of personal responsibility in all this. Ms Hill was not following the Government advice on storing petrol at the time when her tragic accident happened, and it would take a remarkable twisting of Maude's words to suggest that she had been. But even this rather misses the point...
Maude, and the Government, has been criticised for the advice on storing petrol in jerrycans in the garage. But whether it was good advice or not, surely it is not unreasonable to expect people to think for themselves before following it? As I remarked in my reply to Jayne Innes' Tweet, the Government could've advised me to drink petrol as an energy drink, before playing sports - but I wouldn't have, because I know that would be a very stupid thing to do.
Following my short exchange on Twitter with Jayne Innes, I also saw this Tweet, from Labour activist Grant Blowers:
People are beeping and tempers are fraying. All because of a govt that can't control a situation
— Grant Blowers (@grantblowers) March 30, 2012
I could not believe that the Government were now being blamed for individual emotions. In my previous example, I concede that misinterpretation of well-meaning but rather unclear Government advice, coupled with a lack of common sense, may in some way have led to the tragedy of Diane Hills' injuries. But if motorists are becoming impatient, and getting angry, that is nobody's fault but their own - and I find it utterly bewildering that anyone could even attempt to claim otherwise.
If you cannot control your temper, that is not the Government's fault. That is your fault, and it is up to you address your obvious lack of self-control.
I understand that the situation can be frustrating. I understand that it can make people anxious, nervous, even fractious. But the mature, responsible attitude is to know that getting angry won't solve anything - ranting and raging at the pumps will help no one's plight, and you'll only end up embarrassing yourself.
How this irrational, emotional behaviour can be the fault of the Government, I simply do not know. Neither Francis Maude, nor any other politician, has advised the public to lose its temper. And even if he had, common sense would still dictate that one should not.
My point, really, is not about fuel at all. The possibility of fuel shortages has acted as a catalyst for these thoughts, yes - but my underlying point is that, in my opinion, people cannot go about blaming the Government for their own individual actions. Government advice or not, simply to follow advice (from the Government or from anyone else) blindly, without ever thinking to oneself "is this a good idea?!" is sheer lunacy.