Widespread Panic – Who is to blame?

April 4, 2012 4:49 pm

On the 28th March 2012, the Cabinet Secretary Francis Maude warned the British public of a potential upcoming fuel strike, and informed people to stock up on petrol in the event of this. This led to a general panic amongst car owners, many of whom joined the long queues for fuel to ensure they weren’t going to run out. The AA warned against Maude’s ‘advice’, as did the fire service; due to the potential risk of explosions. Yet many people chose to ignore the warnings of these respectable organisations, and instead listened to the warnings and advice of a politician.

Just two days after Maude’s announcement, Diane Hill of Acomb, York, was badly burned while decanting petrol in front of her cooker, which incidentally, was switched on.

Instantly, I knew where the finger of blame would lie for this incident. The media reacted with great furore; Maude should be sacked, or at the very least resign from his position as Cabinet Secretary, as surely he was to blame for this woman’s misfortune. His blatant scaremongering clearly led to this unfortunate incident taking place.

However, did anyone stop to think that Diane Hill was responsible for her own actions? I don’t mean to be insensitive, and obviously I wouldn’t wish what happened to her on anyone, but did Maude’s advice directly impact on Hill’s actions? Surely, it is common sense to not keep petrol in your kitchen, never mind be moving it about from container to container in front of a cooker which is turned on? I disagree with the fact that Maude encouraged people to store fuel, but I also disagree with the general public’s reaction to this, and I strongly believe that he should not have had to resign from his position.

I am disappointed to live in a society where people view running out of fuel as a huge problem. For fear of sounding remotely like my grandparents, what did people do before cars were invented? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that people may have walked to get from A to B. When asked why they were stocking up on fuel, many people responded with the fact that they needed it. But, might I ask, what did they actually need it for? Did they need it to go to work, or did they need it to pick up their children from school? I believe that there is a very fine line between needing something and wanting something. I completely understand that some people work miles away from home, and running out of fuel may perhaps prevent them from getting to work. But I also do strongly believe that the majority of the people who joined these ridiculous queues were just too lazy to walk to their destinations, while this strike (which never actually happened) took place.

During the last fuel strike in 2000, my step dad worked as a head chef for a nursing home which was registered by the NHS, and due to his position within the company he was considered as a priority to get fuel. This meant that he was given a card which would allow him to jump to the front of a queue, should he ever need to top up his car. But did he use this once during the strike? No, he did not. Although he was described as a ‘priority group’ he did not take advantage of this. He walked to work, and walked back again, as many of the British public had to do when they ran out of fuel. It took him a full hour and half to get there and back again, but he realised that other people needed it more than him; ambulance drivers, the police, the fire service. These are the priority groups that need access to fuel. How guilty would a person feel if they stocked up on fuel, and the emergency services ran out? Sure, it is not very likely that they would run out, but there is always a possibility.

Creating a moral panic is extremely unprofessional, but everybody makes mistakes and I may be alone here, but in this instance I think that Maude should be given the benefit of the doubt. In my opinion, the media have a responsibility to ensure that the British public remain safe, and I think they were at the stem of this widespread panic. However, I also partly believe that those individuals who fell for this are also to blame for the recent spell of panic buying. These individuals did not seem to take into account the fact that no definitive strikes were actually announced, but still portrayed selfish actions to make sure that they would be well equipped through this ‘strike’.

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