It is now the turn of the fuel protesters to retreat

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The Independent Online

It is devoutly to be hoped that today's tastelessly named "Jarrow Crusade" along the A1(M) will collapse and disperse under the weight of its own contradictions. It was bad enough that Gordon Brown should have appeased the fuel protesters so humiliatingly in his pre-Budget report on Wednesday. It is worse that they should continue with their bull-headedness.

It is devoutly to be hoped that today's tastelessly named "Jarrow Crusade" along the A1(M) will collapse and disperse under the weight of its own contradictions. It was bad enough that Gordon Brown should have appeased the fuel protesters so humiliatingly in his pre-Budget report on Wednesday. It is worse that they should continue with their bull-headedness.

They have, of course, every right in our democracy to lawful protest. But it cannot be lawful to drive three-abreast on a motorway at 20mph, and it is welcome, although belated, that the police should now recognise this and promise to take action against anyone attempting such a stunt again.

Equally, the police are quite right to keep the convoy out of the centre of York, whose people have quite enough to worry about without the symbolism of lorries demanding the right to add to global warming in their flood-sodden streets. Other police forces in other parts of the country should take note and act accordingly.

The right to demonstrate must always be balanced against the right of others to public order - and at least two lanes of free-moving traffic. No one would object - indeed, many motorists would applaud heartily - if the protest lorries confined themselves to the nearside lane. Indeed, on the uphill four-lane sections the convoy lorries could amuse themselves by overtaking each other at 19 and 21 mph on the inside two lanes.

The fact is, however, that the fuel protesters were misguided in the first place, although they tapped into a large reservoir of ill-considered public support. Now they have no case whatsoever. Mr Brown has cut taxes on road use by the equivalent of 4p a litre for cars and 8p a litre for lorries. What is more, his promise to freeze duty until 2003 if oil prices remain at today's levels looks suspiciously like an attempt by government to compensate consumers for price movements in world markets.

Many of the - admittedly genuine - problems of the farming industry arise from too much subsidy in the past, not too little. Now the road haulage industry is to be added to the list of state dependents.

The "people's truckers", if they had any sense, would take the subsidies and run.

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