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No Brit-bashing in US over BP imbroglio

Mark Mardell | 15:16 UK time, Thursday, 10 June 2010

Protest against BP in Washington DC

Should I be investing in a tin hat and boarding up my home? If I believe everything I read in the British press, it would be a wise move. According to them, there is a wave of anti-British sentiment sweeping the United States, on the back of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

It's news to me.

I have just come back from my third trip to the Gulf Coast and have not found a shred of evidence for this. I reported a couple of weeks ago on a few jokes about my accent and one historical jest. Not even that this time. Knowing the interest in this "story" back home, I deliberately asked if there was any such resentment. No-one took the bait.

I can't read every blog, every supermarket tabloid and listen to every radio talk show and cable channel, but I haven't heard or read anything to support the thesis. That may change. Indeed the media has a magic that sometimes turns what it wishes for into reality.

On the other hand, you can hardly underplay the fury towards BP and the dislike of the British energy giant's chief executive, Tony Hayward, in the US Gulf, in the media and among those politicians who deal with them. The fact that Mr Hayward is not American has probably made him all the more irritating to his US audience.

The fury directed at BP may be stronger because they are a foreign company. It's hard to say. The executives of Goldman Sachs may feel their American nationality has not helped them. The Japanese bosses of Toyota would probably see it slightly differently.
There is no doubt that the attacks on BP have made it very clear how much the company has been damaged and that may well have a huge effect in Britain.

Politicians and the public are rightly concerned about that. President Obama's increasingly harsh rhetoric, which now appears to be at an intensity and volume to satisfy the Washington press corps, may have played into this. His suggestion that BP should not pay dividends has hurt.

US Attorney General Eric Holder has said he will take "what ever steps necessary" to make sure BP pays the full cost of the clean up. A reporter asked Mr Holder if he was looking at measures to stop the company paying out a dividend to shareholders.

He replied: "It is our aim, and I can make a pledge to the American people that they will not pay a dime towards the clean up of the gulf region and BP will be held to its responsibility to pay for all damage, and we will take all necessary steps to make sure that occurs."

Pressed if that meant taking out an injunction, he said: "we will take whatever steps are necessary."

Hardly reassuring for BP shareholders.

But anti-British feeling?

I suspect the facts will never get in the way of a good story for some, but I'll forgo the tin hat for now.


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