Belfast Telegraph

Derided boss has taken responsibility for BP's actions

By David Prosser

Given that James Carville's rather excitable outburst on television last week seems to have been one of the spurs for President Barack Obama to rage so publiclyagainst BP, there can't have been too many people Tony Hayward, the oil giant's boss, would have been less happy to see heading his way in a Louisiana restaurant than the Democrat strategist.

Yet that, Mr Carville told CNN yesterday, is exactly what happened just a couple of days after his attack. Mr Hayward apparently told his tormentor that he would buy him dinner in a year's time so they could discuss how BP had put things right. Mr Carville snapped back: "I don't trust you."

The story underlines the extent to which BP has found it impossible to persuade the world that it has been trying to do the right thing since the Deepwater Horizon crisis began almost two months ago. And while people might not care too much about whether or not that is fair, if we don't at least give our large corporates and their leaders some credit for trying to put right their wrongs, don't expect them to bother in future.

President Obama is under intense political pressure to be seen to be bringing BP to heel, but would he really sack Mr Hayward if he had the power to do so, as he is now claiming? It's not the accident itself that seems to have so upset the President, but some unguarded statements made by BP's chief executive. Well, let's say this for Mr Hayward: despite sustained savage, personal attacks — including, reportedly, threats to his family — he has continued to take responsibility for BP's actions.

BP badly needs some friends to go out and bat for it. There are two obvious sources of help on which it ought to be able to call right now.

First, the British Government could offer some public support. Not out of a sense of patriotism, but because this oil company is so crucial to British savers, responsible as it is for a seventh of all the dividends that pension funds receive.

Second, where are BP's fellowoil majors? Exxon has begun to make some noises about the danger of a regulatory backlash, but if others don't join in, big oil may soon find itself barred from further exploration in many sensitive areas.

We might add a third source of support to this list. BP has also been badly let down by its chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, who has been notable only for his absence during this crisis. A company's chairman istraditionally responsible for handling political relations, and during a crisis of this scale, you would expect such a figure to be ever-present at the side of his chief executive. Mr Svanberg has been invisible.

Robert Reich, the former US Labour secretary, has suggested that BP's American operations ought to be put into temporary receivership in order to give the US government more direct control. President Obama wants to sack BP's boss.

One imagines BP's most senior executives might like nothing more than being ordered to go home so that a Presidential team could take over. But in the meantime, Mr Hayward and his team are doing their best to be accountable and responsible for the disaster they caused.

Let's at least give them their dues for that.

Belfast Telegraph