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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 20:43 GMT 21:43 UK
Will 2005 see more fuel demos?
By Joe Boyle
BBC News

Traffic jam
The UK's roads were blockaded for seven days during 2000

Fuel protesters brought the country to a standstill in 2000. Five years later, some are threatening to do it again. Can they succeed?

Blair's Britain has seen its fair share of demonstrations: Pro-hunt, anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-poverty - to name just a few. But many believe the fuel protests of 2000 were the most successful.

For seven days in September of that year, a loose alliance of farmers, truckers and a host of other malcontents - who became known as the People's Fuel Lobby - picketed oil refineries and organised go-slow blockades of roads throughout the UK.

They were angry at plans to increase the duty on fuel - a commodity they already felt was overpriced.

At the end of the protest the chancellor, Gordon Brown, put the planned tax rises on hold. They are still on hold. In fact, the Treasury says duty on fuel has actually gone down in real terms by 14%, or 7p a litre, since 2000.

'Unrest in the fraternity'

The Treasury says it has not raised the duty because of fluctuations in the global oil market. Many others say the protesters did their job.

Whatever the reason, the freeze on fuel duty has not been enough to appease veterans of the 2000 protest.

David Handley
Something needs to be done, but it has to be done discreetly
David Handley
Farmers For Action

Kate Gibbs, of the Road Haulage Association, says there is a "tremendous feeling of unrest in the fraternity".

"When you don't know what the price of fuel is going to be one week to the next, it is very hard to know how much to charge your clients," she says.

Farmer and haulier Andrew Spence, who was an organiser of the People's Fuel Lobby in the north of England during 2000, says fuel prices have risen by 14% in a month.

Mr Spence, who claims to represent a group called the Fuel Lobby, is threatening to blockade all UK refineries on 14 September unless prices come down.

Rhys Park, of Less Tax on Fuel, says he intends to meet farmers and hauliers in south Wales at the end of the week to discuss what action should be taken.

And Farmers For Action chairman David Handley also says "something needs to be done".

Brief alliance

So can we expect blocked roads, picketed refineries, soaring prices and empty pumps?

Mr Handley believes not. He is sceptical of Mr Spence's tactics of announcing his planned protest.

When the protest started to have an effect, and prices at the pump began to rise, the public support drained away
Dr Paul Bagguley
Leeds University

"The reason why it was successful in 2000 is because no-one knew it was going to happen. Something needs to be done, but it has to be done discreetly."

Rhys Park, whose organisation briefly joined with the People's Fuel Lobby in 2001, is also dubious.

"As for doing something on the scale of the 2000 protest, I wouldn't have thought that would happen," he says.

Neither Mr Park nor Mr Handley holds out much hope of forging an alliance like that of five years ago. Although the groups remain united in their belief petrol prices are too high, it appears they are united by little else.

'Tasteless'

Public protest experts share their scepticism. Dr Paul Bagguley, of Leeds University's sociology department, believes the memory of the 2000 protest will hinder the would-be demonstrators of 2005.

"At the beginning, when it was just symbolic, the initial protest had a lot of public support. But when it started to have an effect, and prices at the pump began to rise, the public support drained away."

He also says high petrol prices are being caused by the New Orleans tragedy, and many people would find a large-scale protest "tasteless".

Despite this, and an apparent lack of unity among protesters, some kind of protest still seems likely.

The public's reaction could well decide its success or failure.


SEE ALSO:
Fuel duty increase delayed again
05 Jul 05 |  UK Politics


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