The news this week has been dominated by a story that has shown the fallibility of the people elected to run this country. As if it could have escaped anyone’s notice, on Wednesday, MP Francis Maude advised that people should fill jerry cans with petrol and top up their tanks ahead of the fuel tanker drivers’ strike. A strike that had been proposed, and yet had no set date.
The panic buying of petrol this led to all over Britain was nothing short of ludicrous, and Maude does deserve a slap on the wrists for delivering such over the top advice. But perhaps worse than his almighty gaffe was the reaction of the British public to the news. It’s one thing to follow advice we are given, but to do so blindly without any use of common sense whatsoever is unforgivable. Why people deemed it necessary to buy, in some cases, around 80 or more litres of petrol in one go for a strike that hadn’t even been scheduled is just sheer stupidity.
When my car was returned to me on Thursday following its MOT with the petrol tank light flashing empty, I hoped that the sensible residents of my area hadn’t fallen victim to this unnecessary panic and I could fill up without a hitch. How very misguided of me this was. That empty light continued to flash as I drove to one station, and then another, desperately searching for an area where people hadn’t behaved so utterly stupidly and I could stop worrying that my car was about to break down. After forty minutes of driving, the third station had petrol, but it required a further 30 minute wait and people incessantly queue jumping and acting like imbeciles before I could actually get any fuel.
This whole debacle has, to me, highlighted not only the stupidity of Maude, but of the public in general. I don’t usually compare current affairs to films, but this entire saga reminds me of a scene in Anchorman where Ron Burgundy will literally read anything put on his autocue, no matter how ridiculous it might be. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Brits have seen fit to go one further this week, not only reading but acting upon the foolish advice they have been given. It seriously worries me that nobody is using common sense anymore. Do people not realise that by driving miles and miles out of their way to get petrol it will run out far quicker? And that panic buying early in the week would probably lead to an empty tank when they actually need it? There is no way I would have gone to the Jeremy Kyle-esque forecourts on Thursday night had my tank not genuinely been empty, and I find it deeply worrying that others don’t share the same opinion.
And one step worse than this is the fact that Maude has been called upon to resign since the petrol panic began. Yes, he has made a colossal error, but it seems as though the public are looking for a scapegoat upon which to blame their own naivety. Politicians say stupid things all the time – of course, in an ideal world they wouldn’t, but it kind of goes with the territory. People could have looked at his advice with a critical eye, realised that it was bad, and ignored it. But instead, they didn’t; they succumbed to the panic, spent far more money than they should have done and called for the resignation of an MP to ease the pain of their own ridiculous behaviour.
The news of Diane Hill suffering 40% burns to her body after decanting fuel into a jerry can has further stoked this media fire and Maude’s proposed exit from office. Yes, what has happened to her is terrible and yes, Maude has, to a large degree, caused excessive behaviour nationwide, but to blame him because a woman decided to transfer fuel in her kitchen is simply unfair. We have free will and the ability to make our own choices, and thus to blame him for a tragic accident that he was at best indirectly involved with is wrong. The public seem to either ignore or ridicule ministers and their advice on a near daily basis, so the fact people have not only listened but irrationally acted upon what was said earlier in the week is just moronic. When I queued up to pay for petrol on Thursday night, I overheard a woman asking the station’s owner when the strike actually was. He told her there was no set date before chuckling to himself – clearly he was enjoying this farcical situation and the unprecedented rise in income it was bringing him. And he was right to be amused: if people are going to act like fools, then they deserve to be laughed at.