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Fuel crisis

No 10 needs to stem the panic

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“The Prime Minister is thought to thrive on chaos,” says Kate Andrews in The Spectator. “If so, then he should be in his element.” Winter heating bills are set to be the highest on record. Our lack of 100,000 HGV drivers has already sparked a fuel crisis and could lead to food shortages in supermarkets. Sending troops on to the street, once a sign of panic, is now a semi-regular occurrence. Partly to blame is the Tories’ “lurch to the left”. Price caps for energy bills (© Ed Miliband) have led to companies going bust because they can’t cover their increased costs. The government’s borrowing splurge is looking riskier by the week as inflationary pressures mount. Then there’s simple short-sightedness: because of lockdown, only 173 HGV licences were granted in January, compared to the usual 3,000.

That’s nothing compared to the estimated 15,000 EU lorry drivers who have left the UK since 2020, says Kemi Alemoru in gal-dem. Maybe Boris Johnson is hoping that “the sound of our chattering teeth will drown out” his call for 5,000 of them to return – albeit only on Scrooge-like temporary visas that run out on 24 December. But comparing Brexit to “turkeys voting for Christmas” feels a bit too on the nose, as “we are literally going to face turkey shortages at Christmas due to a lack of skilled European workers to process them”.

Even if the fuel panic winds down, an autumn cost-of-living crisis will be bad news for the PM, says Katy Balls in the I newspaper. Johnson usually dismisses his problems as Westminster “bubble issues”, and does or says something mad to distract from them. But voters won’t ignore inflation, shaky supply chains and cuts to universal credit “just because the Prime Minister uses a colourful phrase”. Our “good news” PM needs some creative thinking to navigate what will be “a rocky few months”.

It strikes me that little current political thinking “is about anything so practical as how to get a lorry across town”, says Hugo Rifkind in The Times. Instead we get the “slalom fun” of Angela Rayner vs the Tories, Priti Patel vs immigrants and who exactly has a cervix. Tub-thumping politics is exciting, compelling and, crucially, much easier than actually getting things done. After the “bleak spectacle” of a culture-war Cabinet grappling with R numbers and PPE shipments, it’s impossible to trust this government to get to grips with the big global issues that lead to empty shelves and gas pipes. “So we don’t. We panic instead.”

A silver lining to the shortages 

Many Tories are secretly “jubilant” about worker shortages, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. If it leads to rising salaries for the low-paid, then “levelling up” acquires some meaning. And rise they have: the average advertised wage for an Essex electrician is now £42,000, and that for a bricklayer in Manchester is £39,000 –both 20% up on a year earlier. If the government can weather the current mayhem, it will have a “clear Brexit dividend” to show off to the public.