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View from the House

A week may be a long time in politics, but leaving just five days between the government's response to the fuel blockade and the deadline for more protests is cutting it a bit fine. The protesters want answers by 13 November while Brown makes his statement only on the eighth.

The government has been very keen to say that it is listening but equally keen to show it will not be pushed around by an unelected protest group – even one with massive public support.

Gordon Brown has left himself only one chance to get it right.

Several ideas have been floated. The first is simple enough – a cut in fuel duty. The Conservatives promise to take three pence off a litre and the chancellor may feel he has to do better than that. But it does leave problems. With a Middle East crisis fuel prices may rise faster than the government can cut duty.

A more complicated option is to link duty with fuel prices and cut the duty if the price rises too high and presumably increase it if it falls.

Brown could also cut fuel tax or vehicle excise duty according to postcode, so that people or companies based in rural areas would pay less.

Another idea is to charge foreign trucks more than their British counterparts for a permit to drive.

All suggestions have one major problem: they are far too complicated and open to abuse. They would, though, keep accountants calculators warm for years to come.

The headlines on 9 November will really decide this issue and nothing will get a better write up than a cut in fuel duty.

A recent report from the ITEM Club said that the government’s coffers are over flowing with up to £18bn, some £12bn more than expected.

But fuel protesters aren’t the only people the chancellor has to please.

Pensioners are looking for more and a cut in income tax before a general election is almost de rigeur these days.

Even so, Gordon Brown is an astute politician. My guess is he will disappoint the advisers and opt for throwing money at the problem.

  • Jonty Bloom is a reporter at the BBC.

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