Mr Handley and his chums have raised my tribal hackles

'We effeminate townies may never have castrated a ram with our bare teeth, but we aren't completely stupid'
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The Independent Online

Here's how I feel emotionally, when confronted with the threats and whining bluster of the Stroke My Volvo lobby, and its soi-disant (I throw that effete French word in his face with defiance - huh!) leader, Mr David Handley. I want to look him in the eye, and growl: "Come on then, Handley, if you think you're hard enough. Let's see how big you are when you're not tailgating a Nissan Micra full of small children in your 20-ton articulated lorry, eh? Go ahead and organise another of your fuel protests and let Uncle Jack Straw make my day."

Here's how I feel emotionally, when confronted with the threats and whining bluster of the Stroke My Volvo lobby, and its soi-disant (I throw that effete French word in his face with defiance - huh!) leader, Mr David Handley. I want to look him in the eye, and growl: "Come on then, Handley, if you think you're hard enough. Let's see how big you are when you're not tailgating a Nissan Micra full of small children in your 20-ton articulated lorry, eh? Go ahead and organise another of your fuel protests and let Uncle Jack Straw make my day."

The very sound of Handley's voice (he is described in Lawrentian terms in this week's Spectator by one of their resident Connie Chatterleys as "possessing a steely edge to his soft burr") is becoming enough to shake my equilibrium. "I'm from the country," he told the radio this week, "and when a rat is cornered by a cat there's only one thing he can do - fight back."

I hate to tell him this, but we effeminate, poofy, denatured, over-bathed townies do know about rats and cats. We may never have castrated a ram with our bare teeth, but we aren't completely stupid. For Mr Handley's information, we're also the ones paying his subsidies.

Now the man wants to hijack the name of Jarrow and send a convoy of juggernauts grinding at 4 mph down to the smoke via the M1, holding up every midwife, homeward-bound dad and tired teacher for hour after hour. As if the weather and Railtrack weren't enough. And then, in London, he expects to be met by half a million (the number has gone down by 50 per cent in a fortnight) cheap-petroleers wearing "I Love Global Warming" T-shirts and Jeremy Clarkson trousers.

This will all happen unless, by the end of the Chancellor's autumn statement next week, he has reduced diesel duty by 26.6p, or all petrol duty by 15p or whatever figure is plucked out of the air by a spokesman for Stroke My Volvo in the meantime.

We'll come back to Mr Brown in a moment, when I've finished having fun with Mr Handley. Or rather, some of his allies. Because what I want to know is, if the haulage industry is in such dead lumber, how on earth can hauliers afford the Jarrow-to-London jaunt? How many of the convoy vehicles, for instance, will belong to fuel lobby leader Nigel Kime, who owns over 30 of them? He has told journalists that his business is running at a slight loss this year, and presumably that loss would be made far worse by participating in a long, revenue-losing go-slow.

Just after the last fuel crisis, a correspondent with experience of the haulage industry wrote to me. He estimated that a lorry run from London to Birmingham would cost £175 in fuel alone. "Then," he continued, "add on the cost of the truck being off work. They lost," he estimated, "something like £2500 of gross income for the week." Hauliers are well known for allowing the minimum possible amount of down-time for machines and their over-worked drivers, yet here they are taking losses that even large fuel-tax cuts would take an age to cover. Why?

Anybody involved in strikes and protests knows how much they can cost those involved. During the miners' strike there was a massive voluntary effort made to try and alleviate the consequences for miners' families. Holidays were organised for kids, food parcels were distributed.

By contrast, on picket lines outside refineries in September, some hauliers, well-known local millionaires, would turn up in Range Rovers and Porsches and rail against the unfairness of it all. It must be the politics.

As if this wasn't sufficient reason to raise my tribal hackles, it then filtered out that the far-right were giving their unsolicited support to the pickets. A month ago the website of the neo-Nazi British National Party warned against the propaganda coup for the Government should BNP activists be seen too visibly to be involved in future action. "The party leadership," a statement said, "has therefore decided to recommend that BNP members stay away from the refinery and fuel depot blockades. Some may still go in their private capacity as hauliers, farmers and taxi-drivers, but they should not take any BNP literature or mention their political affiliations in earshot of reporters or police officers."

Now, I know how pieces such as this one will be characterised by supporters of the fuel protest. It's all a got-up job by the government spin machine, which has now gone to war with its own dissident citizens. There it is, ruthlessly advising essential services how not to run out of fuel, mercilessly suggesting that a gigantic cut in fuel duty might have to be paid for somewhere else and provocatively making plans to distribute petrol should tanker drivers not fancy doing it. What was that about rats and cats?

So I want to make it clear that, once I have dealt with my own atavistic reactions to the haulier lobby and calmed down, I don't actually believe that Mr Handley is a bad, politically motivated man. If the BNP have been jumping on his bandwagon, then they have also jumped on that of the anti-GM movement. It's not his fault. Nor, interestingly, is Mr Handley ideologically anti-green. His organisation, Farmers For Action, lists one of its main goals as being to "raise environmental issues, such as the costs to the environment of the unnecessary transportation of food over long distances".

In other words, he would like to put a substantial part of his own fuel alliance out of business. And, as I have written before, there is great deal to be said for helping small farmers like him.

So - much as I would derive an unworthy pleasure from seeing the police do to the Jarrow convoy what they would do to me, John Walsh and Deborah Orr if we took it into our cosmopolitan heads to drive our teeny townmobiles down the three lanes of M1 at 4 mph - I want to give Mr Handley some good advice. Next week the Chancellor will give you something. I don't know what it will be, but you can bet that it will be worth as much or more than the Hague 3p cut, and far cleverer in delivery.

Take it. Claim victory. Tell the world that, but for you, there would have been no relief. Make your sexy, steely burr sound generous and magnanimous. Thank your supporters, and warn this government and all governments that the lesson is "listen to the people." Then retire back into obscurity, sleeping under a mountain until such a time as your nation has need of you again. Or, if you cannot bear the shifting of the limelight, go into politics yourself and put your case before the electorate.

If you persist, you will not get half a million on your march, and there will be many more cursing your convoys than there were in the sunny days of September. As your coalition breaks apart (and the Tories have already deserted you), others will be there to take up the cudgels. People who say things like: "This may look like a 'mere' fuel protest, but it's really about who rules Britain: arrogant leftist politicians or the British people."

As the BNP puts it.

David.Aaronovitch@btinternet.com

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