It will be interesting to see how transatlantic relations will be affected by this spill. The Tories are usually sycophantic towards the Yanks, but their coalition partners the Lib Dems aren't. Perhaps Deepwater Horizon will finish off the hoary notion of a "special relationship" once and for all.As I noted well before the American press did, the British public is up in arms over the way the Yanks have blackballed BP. Ever one to channel negative sentiment given his inability to do anything constructive to mitigate the oil spill, Barack Obama has labelled British Petroleum a "recurrent environmental criminal" while searching for "whose ass to kick" at the company. While the exceedingly litigious Yanks attempt to sock it to BP by tying it up in litigation sure to cost billions of dollars, the British are pushing back for the understandable reason that Britain's plight is very much tied to BP. Depending on whom you listen to, £1 out of every £6 to £8 in dividends paid out in the UK come from BP shares. What's more, UK pension funds have large holdings of BP stock. With the stock price of BP dropping like a blown offshore platform, let's just say many Britons are up in arms over American bellyaching over BP. Somewhat surprising to me is that the normally transatlantic-friendly Tories are leading the charge:
Senior Tories today warned Barack Obama to back off as billions of pounds were wiped off BP shares in the row over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. [London] Mayor Boris Johnson demanded an end to “anti-British rhetoric, buck-passing and name-calling” after days of scathing criticism directed at BP by the President and other US politicians.Here's a fair warning to the Yanks: the British are coming to kick Obama's ass on BP as my post title goes. By comparison to what I'm hearing, other Evening Standard articles are almost sedate with titles such as "American attacks on BP help nobody" and "PM must counter this US jingoism that threatens our pensions." Meanwhile, the Telegraph says "Gulf of Mexico oil spill: David Cameron fails to back BP in fight with Barack Obama." Meanwhile, the Daily Mail is even more strident - "Stand up for your country, Cameron: PM ducks chance to speak up for BP after cynical attacks from Obama."
Former Conservative Party chairman Lord Tebbit branded Mr Obama's conduct “despicable”. And with the dispute threatening to escalate into a diplomatic row, Mr Johnson also appeared to suggest that David Cameron should step in to defend BP. He spoke as the US onslaught against the firm became a “matter of national concern” — especially given its importance to British pensions, which lost much of their value today as BP shares plunged to a 13-year low.
Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today whether he thought the Prime Minister should intervene, Mr Johnson said: "Well I do think there is something slightly worrying about the anti-British rhetoric that seems to be permeating from America. Yes I suppose that's right. I would like to see cool heads and a bit of calm reflection about how to deal with this problem rather than endlessly buck-passing and name-calling.
"When you consider the huge exposure of British pension funds to BP and its share price, and the vital importance of BP, then I do think it starts to become a matter of national concern if a great UK company is being continually beaten up on the international airwaves. OK, it has presided over a catastrophic accident which it is trying to remedy but ultimately it cannot be faulted because it was an accident that took place. BP, I think is paying a very, very heavy price indeed."
Downing Street steered clear of criticising Mr Obama's conduct but in an apparent reference to concerns over UK pensions highlighted the “broader impact” of the spill and the need to deal with it swiftly. British business chiefs are alarmed that tough talking by Mr Obama and other US politicians is undermining the battered oil giant.
BP's shares fell by 12 per cent at one point today on the London market, after hitting their lowest level since 1997 in New York trading overnight, amid intensifying political attacks in the US. Their price dropped to 345p in early London trading before recovering to 370p — still down five per cent. The slump means the firm's share price has almost halved since the spill started in mid-April, when a well ruptured and the rig exploded, killing 11 workers.
Mr Cameron is due to speak to Mr Obama at the weekend over the issue. Among the President's criticisms of BP was his suggestion that chief executive Tony Hayward would have been axed if he had been working for him. BP said its latest effort to capture oil from the leak with a cap was now collecting about 15,000 barrels a day.
Make no mistake: this may indeed be the conflict that finally finishes off the hoary notion of a US-UK "special relationship." I think that the recent record of trying to get with America speaks for itself--fiascos in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the subprime implosion borne of neoliberal ideology. Certainly, Nick Clegg thinks the "special relationship" is hogwash. If he listens more to the right-of-centre British press, David Cameron will soon be taking the fight to Obama as well. It lends that bit of frisson to the upcoming England vs United States World Cup match, no? In honour of the Americans, let's call it BP Bowl I.
PS: An unidentified wiseacre sent me an invitation to join the "Boycott BP" Facebook page. You needn't ask me to boycott BP for I already do in the sense that I travel via BMW: bus, metro rail (subway), walk. If I can get to my destination in under 30 minutes of walking, I do. Having lived in the US for some time and seen the bulbous girth of your typical Americans firsthand, let me just say their environmentally damaging and unhealthy ways are not for me. In the end, BP is in America because its services are indispensable to their way of life.
UPDATE: See my update on what happened during BP Bowl I and recent evolutions in the US-UK political row over BP.