Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A Government Which Does Not Understand Panic Buying Is Not Fit To Govern

One of our ‘problems’ is that we have an out-of-touch government which has not a single clue about how human beings think and act … and a similarly out-of-touch media reporting it.


There is a comedian – I think it is Michael McIntyre – who has a routine about panic buying. Going out and buying something in short supply is not ‘panic buying’, he says – it is just common sense. ‘Panic buying’ is when there is a shortage of petrol and you go out and buy a hairnet and a bag of dog biscuits. ‘Why did you buy those,’ your wife asks. ‘I don’t know,’ you reply, ‘I just panicked.’

The ‘Petrol Panic’
I have kept remembering that routine throughout the nonsense which has filled our TVs about the ‘petrol panic’. They were STILL banging on about it on Sky News last night … reporting with incredulity that petrol sales were now down.

OF COURSE they are down, you idiots – we have now all filled up our tanks and don’t need to buy any more!

Throughout the week, we’ve been subjected to pompous twerps raising their eyebrows at the ‘panic buying’ of petrol. Some of them have patronisingly intoned that they have not succumbed to the panic.
More fool them – it is THEY who were behaving idiotically, not we.

So let’s nail the ‘panic’ thing once and for all.
I did not panic; I took a rational, conscious decision.

Being on twitter, of course, I found out about the Union ballot before anyone else. I KNEW it was only the ballot. I KNEW no strike had been called.
But I immediately phoned my son and advised him to go out and fill up.
‘Will it do tomorrow, do you think?’ he asked.
‘If you leave it till tomorrow,’ I told him, ‘you’ll likely find yourself stuck in a queue.’
And of course I was correct.

If there is going to be a tanker strike - if there is even the chance that there may be a tanker strike - you have to be some kind of idiot if you don’t fill up your tank ‘just in case’.
You cannot take the risk of running out some time in the future – you HAVE to be able to get to work, you NEED to be able to get to the hospital, to your family, to the shops etc.

And it’s not because you erroneously think there’s going to be a shortage because there is going to be a tanker strike.
It’s because you correctly appreciate that news of a possible strike is going to cause everybody to try to fill up … and it is THAT which is going to cause the shortage.
It is simply realising how the world works, and acting appropriately.

And so EVERYBODY with a brain took a conscious decision to go and fill up.
In any other scenario it would have been labelled ‘forward thinking’ and lauded.
Only the government and our nincompoop media call it ‘panic buying’.

Some people, indeed, had to queue – inconvenient, but they made a rational decision that it was worth it. They shrugged their shoulders and waited it out stoically. If they had been ‘panicking’ they would have been running around hysterically and I didn’t see any of that.

Of course, some petrol stations ran out, and they went on TV railing against the ‘panic buying’ that had run them dry. In fact, we were listening to the idiot end of the petrol forecourt brigade – the fools who hadn’t had the foresight to realise that the strike announcement would cause a surge in sales and who hadn’t organised themselves adequately to take advantage of it … who hadn’t had the foresight that their customers had.

Francis Maude and the Government’s response
Francis Maude has come in for it, of course; to be honest, I can’t fault him on his general advice to fill up – it was only what I advised my son.

And as a government tactic, it was spot on. For months before the 1980s coal strike, the government stockpiled coal, so when the strike happened it was months before we noticed any inconvenience at all. Nasty, but expedient.
Since you cannot build piles of petrol in the same way, I suppose, the only way to scupper the strike was to get millions of motorists to do it for you … by individually filling their tanks.

Where I take issue with Francis Maude – where I feel he really ought to resign – is not in his general advice to fill up, but in his ridiculous advice to fill up jerry cans. Not only is this exceptionally dangerous, it is arguably illegal – there are strict rules governing the storage of petrol at home, of which Mr Maude was apparently unaware.

Maude’s fault (and it is symptomatic of this whole government) was that he spoke in ignorance – that he gave stupid and inappropriate advice. He was simply not aware of the rules governing normal human existence.

An out-of-touch government and its drawbacks
Many people are saying that this government is out-of-touch – Nadine Dorries, for example, has castigated the Cabinet as a set of rich boys who don’t understand what it is to walk round a supermarket and not to be able to afford to buy what you need.

True or not, that is only the shallowest level at which this out-of-touch government is hurting the country. There are other, much more damaging ways in which this government’s lack-of-appreciation of human nature and the way it works is damaging us.

Take for instance the economy
There is a yawning revenue deficit, and so the government has promised to slash the budget and reduce it – in George Osborne’s shallow, inadequate version of common sense, it makes sense.

But as soon as the Tories came to power I advised my children to cut their spending, clear their debts, and try to save up a bit of a buffer, just as quickly as they could. There were bad times coming, nobody’s job was safe, and they needed to ‘clear the decks’ to survive the squall.

I was fully aware – as any economist would tell you – that millions of people doing just that makes recession a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is not the government cuts, but millions of individuals cutting back their spending, which causes the collapse of demand which causes a recession.

But for the individual, there is no common sense alternative. If you have any sense, you will see what is going to happen anyway whatever you do, and make sure that you don’t get burned.

Where the government is culpable is that, for all its economic experts and advisers, it didn’t plan for this inevitable process when it happened.
If even little me could see what was going to happen, why couldn’t the Treasury?

Or take as another instance the government’s attempts to stimulate business
The government is pouring money into SMEs, but none of it is going into expansion and employment. Industry is awash with money – £70billion of it – but it isn’t stimulating economic growth. Firms are just salting it away against a rainy day.

But OF COURSE they are. You would have to be an idiot of a businessman to be taking on huge debts and risky projects today. Yet the government throws up its hands in horror.

It is not a bad thing to have businesses which are secure against economic recession. Or it would have been an easy matter (as I have argued before) to make the funding dependent upon increasing employment.

What is culpable about this out-of-touch government is that it did not see what even little me could see as plainly as the nose on your face.

Conclusion
In the petrol crisis, as in everything else, this government has demonstrated its incompetence, not so much in its policies, but in its clear inability to understand how human beings react.

THAT is why they are constantly being embarrassed and taken by surprise, and THAT is, at base, why they are demonstrably unfit to govern.

We are lumbered with a government which, in every respect, simply does not appreciate how the world works.


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