When I was younger, and there was something I needed to save up for, I would work out on paper how much money I could save and how quickly. The plans depended on me never spending, me getting all the extra shifts at work, and various people (parents) supplementing my income. These plans never worked. I could not not spend money, because I could not expect other people to pay for me. I could not take every shift at work because other staff wanted shifts as well.
My savings plan could not work because the other people in the world are People, with wants and needs and agency, not just side characters in my personal story.
This is a lesson the authors of Brexit, many of whom are now the British Government, are continually failing to learn.
Brexit began with promises that we could leave the EU without penalty; that we could control immigration but still have full access to the European markets. And they kept saying it no matter how many times the EU said no, access to the markets depends on free movement of people. They promised that the £350 million that went to the EU each week (a figure they trumpeted no matter how many times it was debunked) would go to the NHS. Since the £350 million wasn’t a real amount, the money going to the NHS was just as mythical.
So Brexit Happened.
I imagine at the time, many people thought “Well, how much difference will it make to me if we’re in the EU or not?” If you don’t travel to Europe on the regular and if you’re not in Northern Ireland, the issues seemed a bit removed. It’s taken a little while, but the issues have come home to roost. Because more that just Brits have been affected by Brexit. Other People strike again.
The UK is in the grips of the worst kind of crisis; a crisis of our own making, fuelled by Magical Thinking, that things would work in the real world because they worked in my head. In limiting the free movement of people, no one stopped to ask “How many lorry drivers does it take to supply a nation? And How many of them are British?”
It started a couple of months ago, with KFC and Nando’s reducing their menus and closing some restaurants due to a lack of chicken. Next, McDonalds couldn’t sell milkshakes or bottled drinks because they couldn’t get the supplies to the outlets. This one shook me. You would expect a multinational conglomerate like McDonalds to be somehow insulated from a crisis like this. I’d assume they had their own fleets of drivers and own herds of cows. I realise now that it’s a reflection of how poorly they paid the drivers. The best paid jobs get filled first and there is no loyalty in the free market.
Next hit were the supermarkets. I think it took a little longer for the cracks to show. The odd shelf looked less full, a particular brand was out of stock. Because the shortages were fairly random, you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t looking. Then suddenly whole shelves were looking empty. More space was given over to whatever they had lots of. The Sainsbury’s I shop at suddenly had sections of beer and cider all over the shop, perhaps thinking if we were drunk enough, we wouldn’t notice the shortages.
It was all annoying, but given the shit we’ve gone through in the last year and a half, we, as a society, could cope. People can go without KFC and McDonalds. At the grocery store, we can make substitutions. Now we’re facing a petrol shortage.
Shit just got decidedly real.
There is no substitute for putting petrol in your car. Most of the alternatives to using your own car require fuel as well. If you’re out of gas, take an Uber. Except the Uber requires petrol as well and BTW, good luck getting one these days as demand for them is extremely high. Plus Surge pricing, which I believe is all the time now. Need groceries? Good luck getting a delivery slot. You could always walk or bike to the shop, but if you’re feeding a family, good luck carrying it all home.
So what is BoJo doing in the face of this crisis?
His first instinct was to condemn the public for Panic Buying, but is that fair? I don’t think filling your tank constitutes panic. It seems more like practicality. Next was to assert there was no shortage, the UK has all the fuel it needs. Probably true, but if it can’t be distributed around the country, fat lot of good it does.
So he decides to expedite visas for Hauliers in Europe to come to Britain. Hurrah! Except those Hauliers aren’t necessarily going to come, at least not for the previous money. They have taken up other contracts so they’re, ya know, busy. The final nail in the coffin of this visa scheme? The visas would expire at Christmas, meaning these drivers would need to be out of the country by new year. It is, once again, the problem of Other People having their own priorities. With a short term visa, what’s in it for them. BoJo can’t even call on the Patriotic Duty argument, because it’s not their country.
His latest plan is to call in the military to distribute vital supplies. (It’s a right wing Government, so they call the military. Left wing governments would nationalise the industry). He been floating the idea for a few days but hasn’t yet actioned it, so I wonder what he’s waiting for. Possibly, he wants to see the public opinion polls on the subject before he does anything, which is his usual MO. Or perhaps he’s waiting for the crisis to worsen, so that implementing the plan is more dramatic and he can try to look more Churchillian.
This crisis will go on a while even with the Army drivers, as they need training to drive an HGV. Unless they just use Army vehicles.
If I get my Burger delivered by a tank, will they bring it to the door or just fire it through the window?