Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Politics of Panic

A watershed moment was reached last Thursday when the Daily Mail ran the front page headline 'Pasties, Petrol and the Politics of Panic'. This was the moment when the strapline and the headline became one and the same thing.

The Daily Mail, alongside the Daily Express and the Evening Standard, has lived off trying to scare the living daylights out of its readers for years. Asylum seekers, illegal immigrants taking over our country, crime on every corner, and wastes of taxpayer money, are the staple subjects that make up the headlines. Factual accuracy is only a minor inconvenience if you can scare people witless. A couple of days before we all got obsessed with petrol and pasties, the Express ran a front page headline saying '£1 for a first class stamp' - this was the day after it was announced they were going up to 60p. It doesn't take a genius to see that the politics of panic and the politics of paper selling are the same thing.

And what of the accuracy of the headline? It's alliterative, another thing preferred above the use of facts, but is it entirely true? Outside of Ed Milliband and his two mates buying more sausage rolls than anyone would eat in one go,  I saw no long queues outside Greggs as people attempted to stockpile pasties (which of course would have been a stupid thing to do, as the pasties would have gone cold by the time they ate them and a cold pastie is a VAT free pastie), and there were no signs that it would be a week until the next steak and cheese slices arrived.

With petrol there was obviously panic buying going on, but at the same time, large numbers of people were answering polls to say the Government were getting people to panic buy. Did they not realise that when they queued for petrol or was it only after they had to clear out the garage to make room for the jerry cans? Were they hedging their bets 'I think they're whipping up fear for political gain, but I'll buy some just in case' or maybe they just wanted to join in with a national moment for fear of being laughed at by the neighbours?

The ethos behind the petrol frenzy is also interesting for what it says about community spirit. It does not say 'we are stockpiling petrol so that if it runs out we all have enough', it says 'I am stockpiling petrol so that if it runs out I have more than enough and everyone else can go screw themselves'. At the end of the day that is what people were doing, making sure they didn't suffer, trying to get more than their fair share, and being encouraged to do so by a Government that used to claim it wanted communities to do more for each other.

A week later and it's all blowing over, the only panic remaining comes from a Government whose real taxtation allegiances were finally exposed by cutting top rate tax and taxing grannies, grandads and pasties all in the same week. For that at least there may be some long term benefit to the rest of us.