PASTIES, PETROL AND THE POLITICS OF PANIC
No.10 shambles over drivers hoarding fuel, and the tax on takeaway food ...
FILLING up the family car and buying a hot snack are two of the simple realities of everyday life. But yesterday they conspired to plunge the Government into a day which veered between high farce and panic.
First, ministers appeared to give conflicting advice on how motorists should cope with threatened fuel shortages caused by a looming strike by militant tanker drivers.
Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude exhorted people to take
the extraordinary step of filling up jerry cans to deal with the impending problem.
But only hours later, the Prime Minister insisted there was no urgent need for motorists to queue at the pumps.
Then, in a clumsy attempt to calm criticism of the new ‘pasty tax’ announced in last week’s Budget, Mr Cameron declared his love of Cornish pasties at a Downing Street press conference.
He said he had only recently eaten a delicious one from the West Cornwall Pasty Company on Leeds station.
Unfortunately it was later revealed that the shop he claimed to have bought the
‘Unease and confusion’
pasty from closed down five years ago.
Meanwhile Labour leader Ed Miliband and his Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls sought to capitalise on the Government’s discomfort by ostentatiously turning up at a branch of Greggs to tuck in to hot sausage rolls.
However, this was a thinly veiled attempt to deflect attention from their own deep embarrassment over the tanker drivers’ strike, which has been called by the Unite union – Labour’s biggest backer. Critics say Mr Miliband’s refusal to condemn the strike, which would bring chaos to the roads and empty shelves to the supermarkets, is because he is terrified the union’s hard-left leader Len Mccluskey might bankrupt the party by pulling the plug on the funding that it gives it.
Throughout the day there was an air of unease and confusion around Downing Street.
Petrol stations began rationing fuel and the Army was put on standby as ministers were accused of spreading panic. Fire brigade unions warned that Mr Maude’s jerry can advice was positively dangerous – and potentially illegal. The Prime Minister attempted to strike a more measured tone, insisting there was ‘no need to queue’ to buy fuel but urging people to ‘take sensible precautions’.
On one of the Coalition’s most presentationally difficult days to date, Mr Cameron then found himself answering questions about plans to slap VAT on items of hot takeaway fare that are currently exempt.
As Olympics boss Jack Rogge, in London for talks on the summer Games, looked on in bemusement, the Prime Minister declared his love of Cornish pasties at a Downing Street press conference.
The Prime Minister was apparently trying to regain the initiative after critics said Chancellor George Osborne’s tax changes demonstrated that the Government was out of touch with ordinary people.