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Witness 2000: review of the year Andrew Marr
INTRO JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG OCT NOV DEC
Andrew Marr on fuel protests and Tony Blairís wobble
The Fuel crisis
September
In this month:
Violence erupted in Israel and the Palestinian territories following weeks of simmering tension.
Danes voted against joining the Euro. Several countries unofficially voted against Iraqi sanctions with aid flights to Baghdad.
President Clinton shelved the USís national missile defence project for failing to prove it could stop missiles.
One enemy, Fidel Castro of Cuba, appeared to be less threatening after he and the president shook hands at the United Nations Millennium Summit.
Japanese tyre maker Bridgestone admitted that its Firestone tyres were partially responsible for a spate of fatal car accidents.
French globalisation activist Jose Bove was jailed for attacking a McDonaldís restaurant. Presidential elections in Yugoslavia descended into chaos and fears of civil war.
In the UK, a teacher saw her conviction for slapping a pupil quashed. The last of the Greenham Common women protesters left the site. Environmental activists were cleared of destroying a genetically-modified crop.
Lord Archer, the former darling of the Conservative Party, was charged with perjury. The largest ozone hole yet, measuring 11 square miles, appeared over Antarctica.
The Sydney Olympic Games opened - and by the time they closed many people regarded them as the most enjoyable yet.
British rower Steve Redgrave made Olympic history after taking five endurance sport gold medals in five consecutive games.
In India scientists discovered the hottest, spiciest most ferocious chilli known to humanity - touching a scorching 855,000 on the official Scoville scale of chilli heat. Pierre Trudeau, former Canadian premier and world statesman, died.
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The trouble with fuel
The protests started on the continent and suddenly spread to the UK. BBC political editor Andrew Marr watched as a little local difficulty became a serious issue for Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Read the transcript

September 2000 was the most testing month that Tony Blair has experienced as Prime Minister so far at any rate.

It began with the Labour Party on an almost chemical high.

It followed a summer where we had been told and promised that the Tory Opposition led by William Hague was going to make life miserable for Labour and there was going to be a ferocious summer campaign.

But it never really happened and as a result Labour, to its surprise, came out of the summer way ahead in the opinion polls - the Tories hadn't laid a glove on them.

Yet by the time September was over, Labour was experiencing the sharpest the slide in the opinion polls that anyone can remember.

It was an elected government, there was a mood of near-panic around some Ministers and some parts of the government machine and the Tories were cock-a-hoop. Now what had happened between those two things - well it is pretty simple - it was the great fuel revolt.

That started when I was also just starting as BBC political editor - properly anyway - and nobody really saw it coming, that is the truth of it. Not journalists, not politicians, not policy advisers - nobody.

It started on a memorable day when Tony Blair was heading up for a long-arranged series of fairly standard, straightforward press interviews and photo-opportunities in the Midlands.

We all set off by train - I was with him - and the mood was almost sunny.

By the end of the day, when Tony Blair was supposed to be having dinner with John Prescott at a grand ceremony in Hull to mark his time in Parliament and to cement their relationship, he had been forced to abandon the dinner in the Chinese restaurant because of a massive protest by truckers and farmers all around Hull. Within a few hours he was having to head back, in emergency mode, to Downing Street.

There was a special emergency Cabinet unit set up and over the next three or four days the blockades around the country and the real possibility of parts of the NHS and then other parts of the country's infrastructure running out of fuel - with the country on the side of the fuel protesters and against the Government - focused minds.

It was the biggest crisis that he had faced.

Now he dealt with it in a characteristic Tony Blair way, bringing in a group of close advisers, civil servants and others to manage the crisis -there was a series of daily press conferences in Downing Street, reporting on progress.

But things did not go as planned.

He thought that he could order the drivers and the fuel companies back to work.

He thought he could get the roads open again and it was really just a question of the Prime Minister waving his wand and it would happen.

And it wasn't like that.

The fuel companies were at least partly on the side of the protesters.

They too were aghast at the rise in petrol prices and the effect it was having on public attitudes to their companies and they certainly weren't about to force their truckers out.

So a very, very grim situation pretty quickly developed. The Conservatives exploited it rather brilliantly.

There was a big argument between William Hague and Michael Portillo and others about exactly how to handle it. But in the end they came out and said that they would take three pence off the price of petrol - more or less exactly the cut that Gordon Brown later announced in the pre-Budget statement.

Tony Blair got through this but he was badly damaged.

The impression that we had had before - that this was a Prime Minister who could sail through crises, who was really in touch with the public mood - was very, very badly dented and I don't think it will ever come back in quite the same way.

Two things - it was the Dome at the beginning of the year and then the fuel crisis in September that caused that damage.

Tony Blair has come out of the year way ahead in the polls again. There seems to be almost nothing that the Tories can do that pulls that lead back for more than a few weeks.

In the end what matters is what people on the streets believe about the Labour Government - do they trust it? Do they think it is in touch and can it deliver?

In September 2000 for the first time the answer was clearly no.