Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Coalition government approval rating down to -43

... according to YouGov. Blair didn't reach that negative rating till late 2006, nine and a half years after he got elected, and well after he agreed to step down.

Obviously the last week and a bit have been packed with all sorts of excitement, and commentators are divided as to which event had the most impact - was it the granny tax at the same time as the top rate of tax being cut? Or was it minimum alcohol pricing, or the tax on pasties? Or Cash for Policies? Or was it the false panic on petrol?

My money is on the fake petrol crisis that turned into a real one thanks to the government.

A crisis has to inconvenience real people before it has an effect. Spending cuts, tax rises and all the rest are only theoretical events until they actually bite, which is the point when most of the public takes notice. The fake petrol crisis, stoked up to divert press attention from Cash for Policies bit hard on anyone who drove to work, drove to pick their children from school, drove to the shops, people who drove, period, which is most of the adults in Britain.

Some commentators expressed astonishment that people actually took notice of the govt when they claimed people had to stock up on petrol because of an imminent strike. What they don't realise is that despite widespread grumbling, at some deep core, every Briton trusts that the govt is telling the truth when it comes to crises. It's part of being British.

This reflex goes back to World War II, when Labour were running the Home Front, and in an effort to stave off the starvation and chaos that was prevalent during WWI, established a set of rules that they wanted everyone to follow for the survival of the tribe - so people followed rules about rationing, and what they should do in an air-raid, and how to keep calm and carry on diligently - and were rewarded when Britain survived the U-boat blockades and managed to produce enough food and keep the factories at full pelt to win the war.

Faith in the government continued after the war, despite grumblings about policy. When the Thatcher government leafleted the entire population about how they should avoid AIDS, people assumed (correctly) that the government was giving advice in good faith and that the advice was correct, and they followed that advice. When the Blair government leafleted everyone on safety advice in the event of a terrorist attack, it was again taken in good faith and the advice trusted as sound.

The terrorist attacks in 2005 were handled well by the public services and by the members of the public who had been primed by previous advice as to what to expect. Ditto the crises of 2007 (floods, terrorism etc) that Brown handled.

So it has come as a shock that the Cameron government manufactured the fuel crisis out of thin air, merely to divert attention from Cash for Policies, and worse, gave out duff advice, which has led to people filling up jam jars and other unsuitable containers with flammable liquid, whose vapour seeps out and is easily ignited. It resulted in the burning of a woman who didn't fully understand that it is petrol vapour that ignites (possibly because it has never been taught in school and has never been a subject of a government leaflet).

Most people don't have a lot of spare cash, so the petrol they bought at jacked up prices came at the expense of something else, or was borrowed on the credit card. And not only was there no strike, but Unite had to bail the government out by agreeing to drive heavy vehicles full of flammable liquid for eleven hours a day instead of nine to replenish the stores of fuel at petrol stations (I get tired after driving my small hatchback for four hours).

This is the first time in living memory that people feel they can't trust the government to tell the truth or give useful advice when a crisis hits. The first time people feel they are being manipulated and inconvenienced by the government for no good reason. The purpose of government is to keep the peace not disturb it, to protect the public not harm them, to solve crises not create them. How do people know when the next "crisis" is announced, whether there is some real danger they need to take note of, or whether it is all fake? They don't. A rubicon has been crossed.