by John Peters discusses his part in the fuel war

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I don’t know about you, but I’m still angry about this fuel crisis. The news reports have left their mark on me. All those queues and flaring tempers, grown adults being forced to forage in the garage for long- lost bicycles. Some even having to walk.

One day last week, having heard the stories of panic buying, I stuck my head round the door of my local Tesco, just to see what was going on. It was like the first day of Harrods’ sale; except these people were scrabbling around for every last bit of sliced bread they could lay their mitts on, rather than fur coats. A look of the same gritty determination that got us through the war was matched by a jokey camaraderie at the checkouts. I half expected them to burst into a chorus of ‘We’ll Meet Again’ any minute.

Maybe they did, but I managed to walk the whole fifty yards up the road to the local bakery and bought a nice fresh loaf. Buying locally, now there’s an idea. Meanwhile, the wife went panic buying chocolate but I rumbled her. It was just an excuse to buy more than usual! Taking her lead, I stacked the fridge up with Stella. On the odd occasion when I used the car, it was bliss the roads were so quiet. No fat children being ferried on the half- mile school run. No fat road- hogging lorries that should be on the railways anyway.

So why am I angry? I’ll tell you.
For eight years of my life I lived in the shadow of a dual- carriageway flyover that towered menacingly above us. It roared day and night, cutting through the community like a constant, obscene tidal wave, reducing a once smart area to tatters and ruining the quality of life for its residents. On the flyover, trying to ignore the eyesore below them, soared the Haves; the people with jobs, money, houses and cars. When they came to the crossroads, even when it was hot, they would wind up their windows lest they be accosted by latter day baseball- capped highwaymen.

The Haves had all the things, in fact, that the Have Nots below hadn’t. Well under half of the households in our neighbourhood could afford a car, because few people had jobs, and because they didn’t have jobs they had no money. Because they had no money they lived in rented houses that fell apart round their ears. A lot of Asian families clubbed together to buy houses and start businesses, but boy was it an uphill struggle. All the banks moved out while I was living there, whilst loan sharks and pawnbrokers took their place.

With no respect, job prospects or aspirations, just destructive role models created by an amoral media to cling to, some local youths would break into their neighbours’ homes. They’d wait ‘til they were out, then kick their doors down and walk off with the electrical goods in broad daylight. Just ordinary lads with no other known way of buying their next rock of crack or Nike trainers. The police didn’t mind, as long they kept shitting on their own doorstep, so it was left to the residents to take action. One lad got trapped in an alleyway and was severely battered. Things calmed down for a bit after that.

There were two ways of getting over the road to get to the shopping centre. One - the official way - was by going under. This involved negotiating two dark, stinking, mugger- infested subways that cut under the prioritised traffic. The other, more popular and, it was felt, safer way, was to go over the top. Whilst this meant playing chicken with the cars, at least it felt as if you were in charge of your own destiny. Occasionally, the cars won. One day, an elderly Have Not lady on her way back from the shops was too slow for the impatient commuter whose path she crossed. She couldn’t dodge it, laden down as she was with her cut- price bargains for the week. Incredibly, she was posthumously admonished by a Tory MP from the leafy suburbs, who berated her for not using the subway.

Cut to a few years later, last week in fact. I’m stood upstairs in a record shop listening to two ageing hippies talking about the fuel protests as if the peoples’ revolution has begun. "Yeah man," said one of them, "It was just like the Lennon song, Power to the People." "Yeah right," said the other, "Zappa would have loved it too." These noble freedom fighters now stand in absurd solidarity with Countryside Alliance supporters, some of whom, it has to be said, are tragically down to their last three Range Rovers. (Farmers get tax relief anyway, so what are they complaining about?)

I’m not angry because for the first time in modern history, the population of this country has stood up en masse, and said to the government; we’re not having this.
I’m angry because they’re angry about the wrong thing. Why aren’t these people blockading the streets in protest at poverty, discrimination and the failings of capitalist society? So what if extra tax is levied on petrol? Cars are directly killing thousands of people a year, and incidentally, incrementally poisoning the rest of us to death.
Thatcher broke the Unions and the working class’ resolve of collectivism for the common good. Self- preservation gave way to self- interest, and those who didn’t make it in the free market economy were left to rot. New Labour has done little to change this. They deny the North/ South divide, and trumpet the Stakeholder Society in which collectivism is for the interest of the individual. And if you have nothing to claim your Stake with – well, you’re still left to rot.

In a way the government has been hoisted by its own petard, attacked as it now is by a self- righteous, greedy majority of its own making, and an Opposition who put up the fuel tax in the first place and could well win its way back to power by promising to reduce it again. But my message to Blair is; stand firm. Don’t what ever you do give into these protests. Increasing fuel tax is one of the few things you’ve got right. If anything, you should double it.

© John Peters 10 2000


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