Editor’s blog: The lessons of Tony Hayward

What the Deepwater saga has taught us about BP, Big Oil, and the ‘special relationship’.

There’s a tart irony that, as part of his punishment for Deepwater sins, Tony Hayward is being sent to Siberia. He’ll become a director at TNK-BP, the group’s troubled Russian joint venture, when he leaves the oil company in the autumn. The incoming CEO Bob Dudley will be able to give his ex-boss a few tips on dealing with the KGB and the lawless nature of doing business Russian-style – though after his savaging at the hands of the Americans, it may well feel like a walk in the park.

I have a few thoughts:

1) Getting oil out of the ground is a dirty, dangerous and destructive business. Any amount of greenwash emitted by Big Oil over the last decade is a liquid fig leaf to divert attention from this fact. It’s not just carbon – rigs blow up, people get killed in Nigeria, Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. Where oil is struck, trouble will follow. But oil is in demand and will get more expensive as it grows scarcer. That means risks to lives and reputation will continue to be taken.

2) We remain addicted to oil and the USA is the most swivel-eyed, self-deluding junkie of the lot. The Green God Al Gore had an air conditioning system on his house that used more energy in a month than an African family will consume in a lifetime.

3) Tony Hayward was no PR man but that may well endear him to many. He was plain-speaking. He did ‘want his life back’ but you’re not allowed to say things like that in public. It didn’t mean he didn’t care and it probably didn’t mean he wasn’t sorry. He didn’t reign over his kingdom in the manner of his predecessor The Sun King of Battersea Park who might have made a better fist of handling the reputational damage. But post Lord Browne, it was felt BP needed a change. Unfortunately, after BP’s revolution, Hayward lacked Robespierre’s nouse.

4) Average Americans – by which I mean some of the Fox-watching couch potatoes in that great big bit between the East and West coasts – don’t like Brits much. We’re not beyond-the-pale, cheese eating surrender monkeys like the French but we seem to push the wrong buttons. That’s why Anthony Hopkins gets cast as Hannibal Lecter and Alan Rickman as every other baddie. This mystifies and hurts us. More importantly, for the soon-to-be US Hispanic majority, we are pretty much irrelevant. The relationship simply ain’t that special and hasn’t been for years. We’re the dutiful sheep dog that went blind and now lacks use.

5) The next time the United States embarks on one of its ill-advised excursions into Iraq or Afghanistan, the way the Americans appear to have reserved special vilification for a company because it is British makes it rather less likely that we will march in alongside, shoulder-to-shoulder in the future. And that, in the long run, may well be a very good thing for GB Plc.