DON'T panic! There are no blockades and there are no threats of blockades. Petrol is flowing freely.

But it is becoming increasingly hard not to panic because of the Government's attitude which is akin to waving a red rag at a bull. Chancellor Gordon Brown's comments yesterday, which continued his hard line over the weekend, poured petrol on burning, troubled waters. It appears as if he set out to be deliberately antagonistic, rejecting the protestors' 60-day deadline and the possibility of fuel tax cuts.

Of course, a government can never be seen to be giving in to threats - and possibly that was all Mr Brown was trying to say.

But a government should also know when the time has come to be conciliatory. With emotions running so high, that time is surely now.

This is the time for behind-the-scenes negotiations, for true politicians and leaders of men to come up with a compromise and take the sting out of the situation. Yesterday, for example, the price of crude oil hit a ten-year high. That rise will filter through to the petrol pumps in six to eight weeks time. To avoid being seen to be giving into threats, a clever politician could have seized upon it as an excuse to announce a modest duty cut to negate the price rise, with a promise of a review in a tax-cutting pre-election Budget in the spring.

But instead of making conciliatory moves, the Iron Chancellor is seen to be glorifying in his nickname. He appears arrogant and out of touch.

He need not have said anything yesterday - the country knows that a taskforce has been set up and that negotiations are beginning - but Mr Brown's vain outburst shows he is intent on shoring up his own image of himself.

By making his bull-headed comments, Mr Brown may even have fatally undermined the taskforce. What point is there for the protestors to negotiate or compromise when they know the Government isn't going to budge? Why shouldn't they go back to blockading if the Government isn't going to give even half an ear to their concerns?

And so panic at the pumps ensues.

The Government has failed to handle the crisis with any degree of competency. It failed to see it coming and it failed to see it growing ten days ago. Then Tony Blair piped up with a God-given belief that he could make everything right within 24 hours, and finally came Mr Brown's overwhelming arrogance.

For goodness' sake, Mr Blair, get a grip before your ministers have driven the protestors back to the blockades and the plummet in your poll ratings starts to look permanent rather than just an angry blip.