In the autumn of 2000 when fuel protestors brought the country to a standstill the price of petrol was 76.9p a litre and diesel was 81.6p. Prices currently stand at 112.5p and 122.9p with no sign of prices having peaked.
Most of the reasons for fuel prices having risen to such levels are beyond the control of the Government. Gordon Brown cannot be entirely blamed for the market manipulation of OPEC states, the geological reality of production having peaked in many oilfields, or the rapidly rising demand for oil from China and India.
When oil prices rise, however, it is those Governments that have milked the motorist and other oil users through taxation that become the most vulnerable. The main complaint of the hauliers protesting in London and Cardiff this week was not that fuel prices are high, but that they are significantly higher than they are on the continent. This differential is a result of taxation, not the cost of oil, and it is justified to place the blame for this at the Government’s door.
For many years the Government has relied on fuel duty to pay for the expansion in public sector services and balance the budget. There may have been talk of a ‘green agenda’, but the truth has always been that the motorist is an easy target for taxation made even easier by concerns over carbon emissions and global warming.
In all this the rural population has been largely ignored. Higher fuel prices cannot encourage public transport use in remote rural areas where there is no public transport, and the centralisation of basic services has meant that many people in the countryside have to drive more not less. Add in the increase in road tax for cars with large engines which might be ‘Chelsea Tractors’ in SW3, but are vital work vehicles in rural areas and you understand why many people in the countryside are increasingly angry.
Scrapping the planned 2p increase in fuel duty would be a start. If the Government wants to be taken seriously on fuel use and transport policy in the longer term, however, it needs to introduce policies that target people who have a choice and do not discriminate against those who just have to pay.