Saturday, June 12, 2010

Nationalism: BP's desperate card?

Don't let anybody tell you that nationalism and big capital don't match.

Look at how BP's PR machine is turning the whole thing around. And with some success too.

What started on April 20 with an oil rig explosion and the death of 11 workers, quickly turned into one of the most devastating environmental catastrophes ever. It is estimated that 40,000 barrels a day have been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

The consequences for the environment and local economy (and when we say "local" we mean the equivalent of a semicircle going from Cornwall all the way to East Anglia) are devastating. Millions of people depending on fishing and tourism, the two most obvious areas that spring to mind, are obviously very concerned.

For the record, BP encountered hostility because: 1) evidence of criminal negligence is gradually surfacing (regarding cost cutting and lax security measures); 2) the company has been fined several times in recent years for negligence over, again, security, safety hazards and environmental crimes in the US; 3) in the wake of the accident, company's CEO Tony Hayward came up with one tactless comment after the other and got lambasted for lacking empathy.

Now, bear in mind that BP shares started nosediving straight after the accident and continued to do so after each attempt at cleaning up failed and each time Mr Hayward engaged in inept remarks.

On June 1, BP shares already lost 34 per cent of their value before the spill.

Obama's notorious "whose ass to kick" and "he wouldn't work for me" remarks didn't take place until June 8. Shares kept plunging until they reached half their original value, but to say the President is responsible is a complete smokescreen.

So what happened? When it was clear that "ordinary" PR couldn't cut it on behalf of BP, aid came in the guise of the "patriotic" card. And it worked.

Just look at it. In the past few days, the focus has shifted completely. It is no longer on the environmental tragedy, its impact on millions of lives, the clean-up and BP's obvious responsibilities.

Boris Johnson and Lord Tebbit
accused Barack Obama and the Americans in general of anti-British rhetoric, "buck-passing and name-calling", even though the buck does indeed stop at BP.

Tebbit, in particular, called Obama "despicable", unleashed accusations of "anti-BP rhetoric" and putting BP pension schemes at risk, as he kick-started the game of "whataboutery" that the "Americans too" have caused environmental disasters in the past (and?).

On Thursday night's BBC Question Time the rhetoric had hit such crass levels that panel member Toby Young ("journalist and author") got a round of applause by saying that "if you wanna see some ass kicked you should tune into the England v USA World Cup game on Saturday".

Never mind questions should be raised about a messed-up system where millions of pensions are literally left to the gambling world, just blow the dog whistle and start mentioning "British interests" (to be read in a manly, gravely voice)...and that's it, people's attention is easily sidetracked.

So imagine that. Basically Barack Obama, his administration, and the millions of American citizens affected by BP's ineptitude, should just say: "don't rush, BP. No sweat. We know some British pension schemes are invested in BP, so just leave it. Actually, have one on us".

1 comment:

roym said...

it hasnt just been obama though. many a US politician and commentator have been tucking into this with equal nationalistic fervour. Why refer to them as "British" petroleum all the time if not to waft away the stench of regulatory failings?

Even the anointed one himself has acknowlegded that big oil has corrupted the regulators over there.

Im not so sure that BP hasnt played this one with a straight bat. after all they dont own the well outright, three US companies will probably foot much of the bill (i bet law firms will be tucking into this one for years), and they have actually been trying to repair the damn thing.

shareholders etc would already have taken a beating over this, preposterous infantile talk about state appropriation of private assets is something id expect from putin and his kind. Obama playing to the gallery is disappoiinting, but i guess he has his own game to play.