With oil, if it's not one thing it's another. Remember Libya? When that was all sorted out, the oil price was supposed to get back to normal, and the poor squeezed motorist would be able to get back to burning off the remaining supplies in his Range Rover. Now it's Iran that's the culprit for the oil price back above $120/bbl. The fact is, much of the world's oil originates in countries that don't have stable Western-friendly democracies. Which means that even with ordinary luck, oil supply is a bit like Tube travel - most days there is some disruption.
In an oil-dependent country like the UK, oil prices have a very real effect on the economy. We've already seen motorists driving less in response to high fuel prices and economic pressures, and there's a real danger that an oil price spike could tip the economy back into recession. I've pointed out before on this blog that a sensible move would be to aim to make the economy less dependent on oil so we're less vulnerable to the chill winds of geopolitics. In the recent past, the Chancellor has done the opposite, cutting fuel duty and giving the signal that high oil prices are a temporary aberration. Surely sooner or later they'll get the message that unreliable supply coupled with rising demand from the middle classes of China and India spell irreversable decline for any economy that's designed around cheap oil?
It would seem pretty hard to argue against the idea that to achieve economic growth we need to substitute oil-fuelled travel with alternatives, yet this government don't seem to have any policy to tackle oil dependency. HS2 benefits are too far in the future. Public transport fares are rising and some services are being cut. Electric car takeup has been disappointing despite the £5000-per-car government subsidy, with a little over 1000 sold so far compared to the 8500 grants that were available. Cycling is an alternative that could be available to a huge number of people at low cost, but for most people the lack of safe cycle routes puts them off. With the right investment, that could be reversed: we know it can be done from experience in Continental countries, and the side-benefits in terms of improved public health, lowered carbon and particulate emissions and better neighborhoods are huge. All it will take is a bold and far-sighted politician. Unfortunately, in the UK at least, that's an oxymoron.