2 November 2000
Shaky support for fuel protesters
By FWi staff
SUPPORT for the fuel protesters appears to be wavering as Britains newspapers criticise farmers threatening more demonstrations.
The Peoples Fuel Lobby, led by farmer David Handley, has pledged that up to 25,000 lorries will bring London to a halt unless fuel tax is slashed.
But a front-page editorial in The Mirror under the headline “Stop this Silly Fuel” says: “David Handley is not just a fool but a dangerous fool.”
The paper adds: “He must be stopped before his plan is set in motion.”
Mr Handley has called for a 26.2p cut in fuel duty – a demand that the government claims would cost the country 11.8 billion in lost revenue.
The Sun acknowledges that the Prime Minister is playing a risky game with the protesters. But the paper avoids calling for a cut in fuel duty.
It says Tony Blair must instead persuade ordinary drivers that a cut in excise duty for smaller engines is compensation for the worlds dearest petrol.
An editorial in the paper says: “He must simultaneously persuade the rest of the country that demands for anything more would be plain greedy.”
The Daily Mail devotes its front page to the threat of more protests. But inside it warns: “The protesters won the battle, but they may lose the war.”
A comment piece in the paper says that both the protesters and the government “should pause” before confronting one another.
The demonstrators “have won huge sympathy for the justice of their case and the honourable way they presented it”, it continues.
“But they could lose the moral high ground – and the support that goes with it – if they now allow their frustrations to manifest themselves in illegality or threats.”
A report in the Daily Express says the government has indicated that hard-pressed farmers and hauliers will be helped in the pre-Budget statement.
But Mr Blair has warned that any money will not be at the expense of pensioners, public services or higher interest and mortgage rates, it says.
According to an editorial in The Daily Telegraph, prudence demands that Chancellor Gordon Brown is flexible and a little humble as well.
The paper believes fuel tax should be cut. But it warns that protesters – and the government – may suffer a public backlash if normal life is disrupted again.
There is no editorial comment regarding fuel tax in The Times.
But a letter in the paper from Lawrence Christensen, president of the Freight Transport Association, warns that the threats of direct action could backfire.
“We believe that the government has listened, is sympathetic and is minded to respond,” writes Mr Christensen.
“But threats of direct action could seriously undermine the credibility of the industry and the strength of its case. This must not be allowed to happen.”
An editorial in The Independent tells its readers that the government “has to stand up to the bullying of the fuel protesters”.
The paper is especially critical of plans for a mass lorry convoy from Tyneside to London in a modern-day version of the 1930s Jarrow march.
“This Jarrow march is a typically tasteless and selfish stunt,” it says.
“It is fair to point out that some of todays protest leaders, who own huge farms (subsidised by the taxpayer) … would not have passed a 1936 means test.”
The paper concludes: “Next week [Chancellor] Brown must live up to his iron reputation and face down the bullies.”