TaxPersonal TaxView from the house

View from the house

The fuel protesters were effective because they were a loose coalition of different interests - small hauliers, lorry drivers in general, motorists and certain kinds of farmers (when was the last time we saw any of the big grain farmers of the East of England anywhere except on their way to the bank?)

But their disorganisation will now become their weakness. They gave the government 60 days to ‘respond’. But they made no specific demands.

The British, American and every other European government are going to move heaven and earth over the next few weeks to push down the world price of oil. That doesn’t just mean badgering Opec. The Mexicans and Norwegians and other producers outside the cartel will be pressured to pump more petroleum. Even Saddam Hussein could be revived.

The Americans – there’s an election on after all – may mobilise strategic stocks. If prices soften on global markets, national governments will threaten and cajole the oil companies to cut prices at the pump.

By November prices may have fallen a bit and the protesters’ fox will be shot. Oh yes, there were hunters on the picket lines too.

Gordon Brown will have to cooperate with his Cabinet colleagues and he does have a considerable armoury of fiscal tools.

In Belgium truckers have just been bought off with concessions on insurance and road charges.

The chancellor could buy time by announcing a comprehensive review of the costs of vehicle use.

Further special measures targeted at specific groups of farmers (who of course already enjoy cheap fuel for farm use) could take care of that group. The government will need to be quick on its feet and generous with its rhetoric. But a bit of luck on the international oil market plus some fiscal jiggery-pokery could see it through the winter without further disruption. Come the spring, Blair’s options are many. And of course they include replacing Gordon Brown and ensuring the March budget appears driver-friendly. That may sound extreme but in the dark hours of recent nights some hard thinking has been going on at Number 10 and Brown’s stock has been falling.

David Walker writes for The Guardian

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