One minister told me that some in the government were showing signs of seeing the possible tanker drivers’ strike as “their miners’ strike” moment and were convinced that Unite was pushing for cross-company collective bargaining in order to achieve pinch points to shut the country down.

The government thinks “safety” is a catchy word thrown in late into Unite’s grievance list to grab public sympathy.

Francis Maude on Radio 4 earlier tried to row back from his earlier suggestion that people keep a jerry can of petrol in the garage. The excellent Martha Kearney pointed out that the 20 litre capacity of a jerry can exceeded the legal limit for privately stored petrol.

Francis Maude said that was “absurdly technical” but people should act sensibly and stay within the law. Asked if the government was in danger of triggering a stampede for petrol exacerbating the problems he said it is “difficult to get this balance right” in the language you use.

Read more: UK tanker strike threatens petrol station chaos

You don’t have to look for long at the training days required for army tanker drivers to see there’s a race against time here. If Unite pressed the button for strike action to happen before or at Easter the government would not be very well placed – one minister put it a little more graphically to me.

But Whitehall is hoping/praying that Unite won’t want to hit its own members’ Easter holidays. The difference between discomfort and disaster could hinge on that.

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