Thursday, 29 March 2012

Fuelling a well-deserved reputation for political cunning

Tanker drivers in British trade union Unite are threatening to strike, which might leave the nation without fuel.

Unite is the main contributor to the opposition Labour Party, which has so far failed to denounce the threat.

So here’s how the present government would use competence and cunning to turn the situation to its advantage.

As the threat of the strike grows, it keeps calling on the union not to take action. ‘Don’t do this,’ it says, ‘you’ll leave the British people without their cars. Worse, you’ll leave them without deliveries to their shops. Worse still, you might leave them without ambulances or fire engines.’

As time goes on, David Cameron ratchets up the rhetoric. ‘A 78-year old grandmother in Leeds recovering from a stroke will be unable to stock up with food or get to hospital. Don’t strike! Surely you don’t want her death on your conscience?’

You understand that there’s always a 78-year old grandmother somewhere whose life would be threatened by a strike, so no-one can deny the claim.

Meanwhile, Cameron and his colleagues would pile the pressure on Labour. ‘Come on,’ they would say, ‘you owe it to your voters to tell your friends in Unite to think of the suffering they would cause. Tell your friends not to inflict such harm on the country. Speak out for your electors against your friends.’

From time to time they would replace the word ‘friends’ by ‘paymasters.’

Whether or not the strike happened, the government would emerge as the voice of sweet reason, the opposition as accomplices in an attempt to blackmail the nation. 

And that’s how it would play in the press.

Here’s how the same government would attempt to turn the situation to its advantage if it possessed neither competence nor cunning.

It would say to itself, ‘time to maximise the potential damage of the strike.’

No-one would say ‘hang on, it hasn’t actually been called yet. The arbitration talks haven’t even started. And the union has to give seven days notice of a strike anyway. So don’t go over the top, hold something back for later.’

Instead Cameron and his friends would try to maximise the pressure from the outset. They would call meetings of emergency committees. They would go on radio to predict dire consequences. They would call for calm but at the same time recommend filling up fuel tanks as soon as possible.

A senior minister, perhaps Francis Maude, might even advise storing fuel in garages, even though it’s illegal as well as dangerous to keep more than half a tank’s worth at home. A spokesman might have to go back to the media the following day to apologise for that advice.

Maude: yes, he's as hapless as he looks

The effect would be panic buying of fuel and queues at filling stations.

Quickly a backlash would set in as no strike is called. People would start to say that the government is fostering panic and talking rubbish. The opposition would come across as balanced and calm.

And that’s how it would play in the press.

And today’s test question is: guess which approach the British government has taken?

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