Remember panic-buying? Here’s what will happen next time

It’s post-Christmas, and there are already murmurs about supermarkets with empty shelves. Just as with the petrol shortage in September and shortages of loo paper at the beginning of the first lockdown, these things can rapidly develop into major crises, purely as a result of panic-buying. Tesco, whose store on the Isle of Wight is reportedly especially empty post-Christmas, denies it has any problem with its supply chain — which had been threatened with disruption thanks to an industrial dispute involving the company’s lorry drivers in early December. People may, on the other hand, have stocked up more than usual in response to fears of a post-Christmas lockdown — a fear which

Why Covid means the big state is back

History suggests that when the state expands in a crisis, it doesn’t go back to its pre-crisis level once the emergency is over. After the first world war, the Lloyd George government extended unemployment insurance to most of the workforce, fixed wages for farm workers and introduced rent controls. The second world war led to Attlee’s nationalisations, along with the creation of the NHS and the modern welfare state. In the magazine this week I ask if Covid will lead to a permanently bigger state. There is another danger in all this intervention: can the country afford it? Last year, state spending exceeded 50 per cent of GDP for the first time

Boris’s tetchy Marr interview showed the risks he is taking

Boris Johnson’s rather testy interview with Andrew Marr this morning revealed the political gamble that he is taking. Johnson is calculating that the electoral benefits of higher wages will cancel out the public irritation with supply chain issues caused by labour shortages. During the interview, he repeatedly stressed that he thought that the UK’s low wage growth and stagnant productivity was, in part, because of the UK’s use of cheap, imported labour and that he wasn’t going to go back to that ‘old failed model’. The government appears to have paid no political price for the petrol crunch When Andrew Marr pushed on how long these supply chain problems would go

We’re living through eerie reminders of the 1970s

There are eerie parallels with 1970s at the moment, I say in the Times today. The inflation of that decade was principally caused by the abandonment of the gold standard in 1971 and the oil shock of 1973-4, which saw the price of a barrel of oil go from $3 a barrel to $12. Today, we have seen huge amounts of quantitative easing from central banks to keep the economy going through Covid – and unlike the post-financial crash QE, which was largely used to repair banks’ balance sheets, it has gone into the real economy. On top of that, we have now seen the gas price rise fourfold. There are

We’ll all pay the price for reckless energy firms’ gambling

You know that mate of yours who is always boasting they pay way less for energy than you because they’re constantly surfing for the best deal on price comparison websites? Well they are still going to have the last laugh, even though the energy company that supplied them is going bust. That is because the energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng promised today that he would protect consumers and keep the official cap on prices, which means that the amount your mate pays for energy will hardly go up at all. And they’ll probably end up paying what you are paying. But as if to rub salt into your wounds, it is

The NHS blood tube shortage should concern us

One of the great lessons from the early stages of the pandemic was the need to shorten supply chains and make them more robust. This was especially true for medical supplies. Just-in-time supply chains have been developed over the years to increase efficiency, but had never been tested in a global crisis when demand for certain medical products is high and supply is weak. The government ended up paying huge sums for PPE which, in some cases, was not even suitable for use. The shortage raises eyebrows because a plastic tube is, after all, a plastic tube It seems the lesson has not entirely been learned. There is now a shortage of