Philip Whiteley's Blog

June 14, 2010

BP is a crisis, not a drama

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:21 pm

The one potential silver lining from the horrors of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill seemed, until recently, that the crisis was so terrible that it would force business leaders and politicians to re-think their entire approach to the environment, energy supply and corporate governance.

Yet with spectacular incompetence and misjudgement, leading British politicians and businessmen are determined to turn a major catastrophe into a diplomatic spat or a question of PR, and pretend that the question of Britain’s reputation should take priority over the killing of an eco-system and the destruction of thousands of businesses and livelihoods through a business model that is a disaster that is poised to happen again and again.

The bumbling Boris Johnson, London’s mayor accused US President Barack Obama of ‘beating up’ BP. Some business leaders added their voice, asking the BP-bashing to be toned down. An intemperate article in the Daily Telegraph by Nile Gardiner accused the White House of ‘kicking’ BP ‘while it’s down’, and urged David Cameron to ‘stand up’ to Mr Obama.

Do these embarrassing, self-appointed PR officers for Great Britain PLC just not think it matters, that millions of gallons of crude oil spill into the sea? Do they think that it’s OK that the company responsible admitted that it did not have the toolkit to operate at that depth? What would be their response if a plane crash was followed by an admission by the manufacturer that they hadn’t bothered to test if it was safe to fly at the altitude it was authorised to reach?

They bleat about the interests of BP’s shareholders, neatly oblivious to the fact that it is BP’s executives who have imperilled these, not the US President. The costs and liabilities would be the same irrespective of the attitude or comments from the White House, which is probably just expressing its impotence in the matter.

At least Clive Crook in the Financial Times on 14 June sought to bring some perspective back to the debate, asking us how we would feel if it was Exxon poisoning our seas. He pointedly added: ‘The British press points out that BP has a dominant position in the stock market and that pensioners depend on its dividends. What is one to conclude? The bigger the company, the smaller its obligation to make good the damage it has done?

At a time when we ought to be re-thinking the very concept of corporate governance, energy policy, and protection of the fragile ecologies on which we depend, Boris Johnson and his bumbling Little Englander colleagues emit a parochial, spiteful  noise. It will not do.

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1 Comment »

  1. Heartily agree with you Philip. I heard Digby Jones chip in that London DC should insist to Washington DC that this is an American problem, given that BP employs more people in the US than UK, and 40% of its dividend income goes to US pension funds. Great. That’s like saying we should stop blaming England’s poor World Cup performance on England and blame Italy. My big concern though is this. When the Exxon disaster happened, the world said never again. When the tigers disapeared from Java, everyone said never again. Only when politicians and business leaders face real penalties (talking prosecution and jail time)for environmental damage and finacial mismangement will they think twice. Until then, the game will stay the same: make as much money as you can and if it blows up, point the finger and plan for retirement on an unpolluted private island, hopefully one with a few tigers left to hunt.

    Comment by Stuart Shaw — June 15, 2010 @ 8:33 am | Reply


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