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In Britain, Rising Prices and Shortages Evoke 1970s-Style Jitters

todaySeptember 24, 2021 6

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For the opposition Labour Party, which struggled to attack the government amid the national solidarity inspired by the pandemic, hitting the Tories over the high cost of living is an easy strategy. Some analysts predict a series of humiliating reversals for Mr. Johnson, starting with potential repercussions from the tax increases.

“When articles are written in Conservative papers about a return to the Seventies, that’s a flashing red sign for a Conservative government,” said Tony Travers, a professor of politics at the London School of Economics. He noted a maxim in British politics: “Oppositions don’t win elections; governments lose them.”

On Friday, the specter of fuel shortages seemed to loom largest. In London, long lines formed at some gas stations, though others reported operating normally. Priya Dela, a cashier at a busy Texaco station in West Norwood, in southeast London, said her station might run out of fuel by the end of the day.

Ragu Thangavel, a manager at an Esso station in Brighton, said he had already run out of diesel by Friday morning and that he expected to run out of all fuel by the evening. “There have been long queues from this morning,” he said, adding that he had not been told when his next delivery would arrive.

BP, the oil giant, said several of its stations had shut because of a shortage of unleaded and diesel-grade fuel. Tesco, a supermarket chain that operates gas stations, said it had suffered temporary closings in a small number of areas. The problem is not the supply of fuel, said Gordon Balmer, the executive director at the Petrol Retailers Association, but a lack of trained truck drivers to transport it.

The challenge of finding, and paying, qualified drivers cuts across sectors beyond fuel. With drivers retiring, and replacements delayed in getting licensed because of the pandemic, the labor pool has shrunk even as demand has surged. That has driven up wages. Tom Binks, the managing director of Peter Green Chilled, a refrigerated and frozen food transport company, said he has had to increase pay for his fleet of roughly 60 drivers by 35 percent since April to keep them.

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