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The UK fuel crisis: all thanks to the Internet

We're beginning to enjoy ourselves. All together now: "Roll out the barrel..."

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Well, two tankers complete with whirring police escort have gone down Regent Street in the last hour, Tony Blair's pledge to have it all sorted within 24 hours is blown, the petrol pumps are still dry and it looks like we've got a top-notch crisis on our hands. And we love it.

A good percentage of the UK never lived through the Blitz but that mentality has permeated the collective British subconscious. The chips are down and secretly we're all dying for some hardship. If this goes on for another two days, pianos will start appearing in local pubs and we'll all be having a right old knees-up. Talk to your granny now - she's got the inside track.

What has this all to do with IT? Everything. If it weren't for mobile phones and the Internet it seems unlikely that such a protest would ever have happened. Old-style protests consisted of getting as many people together in one place as possible. This would never have worked for this petrol crisis. Instead, by communicating and organising over the Internet, anyone anywhere is able to keep up to date and the accumulation of knowledge enabled smaller groups to protest outside depots and effectively cut off the petrol lifeline.

In this situation, the Internet is a truly terrifying tool for the government. People no longer rely on controllable, issue-led media or rumour for their information. Instead they get it straight from the horse's mouth and in real time. The collective feeling of anger at having the highest petrol price in the world is also bolstering those picketing.

[The next bit should be read with a last Night of the Proms version of Rule Britannia playing loudly in the background - news ed]
It's a funny thing the British mentality. We tend to think the French a little coarse and selfish when they start inconveniencing people, we hate the in-your-face approach of Americans and we deplore the use of violence. The British public will quietly put up with just about anything and a good many jokes have been created on this premise. But there is one thing that will get every man, woman and child's backs up, and that is arrogance.

Tony Blair has got it wrong. The anger over petrol prices has been building for a couple of months and has been sneered at by politicians. The Boycott the Pumps campaign was a failure and those in Parliament smugly pointed at it and went on about the country's apathy. A grave error. True, there has been some kind of implicit agreement about this situation by the petrol companies (they could have put those trucks out if they really wanted) and the police have learnt their lesson from the miners strike way back when and won't go wading into peaceful, law-abiding citizens.

The government thought it could get away with bullying people and its thinking has looked more and more out of touch and arrogant as more people have been persuaded of the protest's legitimacy. And that is where the worm turns. The British public will never start any trouble but when there's no escape, it turns into a snarling dog - the legacy of our entire history from the empire to World War II. This fuel crisis has gone beyond mild irritation and become a bonding experience. Besides, it makes a nice change.

Tony Blair better tread very carefully. Personally we all want it to continue so for a couple of days at least we can enjoy a London without hundreds of cars and motorbikes flying at you from every direction. The change in noise level is already noticeable.

The spivs move in

The country's petrol drought has reached such epic proportions that Brits are auctioning the stuff online, writes Linda Harrison.

eBay today boasted two potential sales - the fist is one litre of unleaded that received its first bid of £5 this afternoon.

Another was from a certain johnprescott, who has put five litres of unleaded petrol, with free plastic can, up for auction on the Web. According to the site, Mr Prescott has so far received bids up to £520 for the stash.

The description reads as follows: "5litres of unleaded petrol in a little plastic can... This would power my two jags for about 3 seconds so instead I'll sell it to you poor and hungry at an extortionate price... though still lower than the amount I'd like to charge on petrol. Buyer collects, will not post."

But before you all rush out and buy it, the prankster added this comment at the end:

"note: this message does not purport to be from John Prescott or any member of any political party, group or species. "This auction is intended as a joke. In reality no petrol is being offered. I have none. Do not bid on it."

Both auctions officially end on Tuesday.

Seller johnprescott has been busy with eBay. His other current auctions include The Millennium Dome, which so far has only commanded a bid of 15 new shiny English pence.®

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