Blog: Dave LeggettDon't panic

Dave Leggett | 13 June 2008

We've got a strike starting today by the tanker drivers who deliver to Shell filling stations. It's a 4-day affair as part of a pay dispute and there is great uncertainty as to its effects and whether other tanker drivers will avoid crossing picket lines in sympathy. A few days ago prime minister Gordon 'Mr Bean' Brown urged motorists not to panic buy, something that could worsen a shortage of supply.

But doesn't that exhortation not to panic buy simply induce the opposite reaction? It surely raises the possibility of a fuel shortage and has people - quite rationally from the individual's perspective - filling up 'just to be on the safe side'.

And indeed, that was what happened. Sales at the pumps were up 30% in recent days. So that was another botched Government communication, eh?

Perhaps not. I've read that Whitehall sources say it was actually a piece of 'reverse psychology'.

Ministers, it is said, calculated that the message would spur panic buyers into stocking up with enough fuel to ride out the strike, lessening its impact.

A 'Government insider' told a national newspaper: "We'd rather people started filling their tanks now, giving time for the forecourts to restock before the strike takes hold, than over the weekend."

To be fair, if that was the calculation, it was quite clever.


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