Simon Evans: How can Hayward stem the flow of vitriol from the US?

Bashing the beleaguered BP boss is a vote-winner
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The Independent Online

There was a time, not long ago, when America fell in love with a guy called Tony, who wowed them on visits to Washington. But those days are long past.

The warm response Tony Blair received is in inverse proportion to the hate and vitriol being heaped on Tony Hayward, chief executive of BP, who will this Wednesday face a grilling from a congressional committee in DC. It won't be pretty.

The vilification of the BP boss from sections of the media across the pond – the New York Post said he was the most hated and clueless man in America – has been ramped up in recent days, in no small part, due to the naked politicking of President Barack Obama in Washington.

It has gone too far and has to stop.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, will speak with the President this weekend in an effort to stem the volley of criticism coming from Capitol Hill, which has helped to halve the value of the FTSE100 giant and could even bankrupt the firm.

Cameron's pleas are likely to fall on deaf ears, as President Obama – yes, the one who told us his arrival heralded a new type of politics – and his political colleagues have one eye on the US elections later this year. Incidentally, those same politicians haven't been as quick to shine a light on the goings-on of Transocean, the American – yes, American – firm that operated the Deepwater facility.

I'm not saying for one moment that Hayward hasn't made his fair share of mistakes since the Deepwater disaster began. He clearly has.

Suggesting that the environmental impact of the disaster was likely to be "very, very modest", days after the explosion, wasn't the wisest of lines. But in fairness, few thought capping the well and stemming the tide of oil, now engulfing US beaches, would prove as difficult as it has done.

His second "crime", in the eyes of the US media, was his response to a question on the spill's impact: "There's no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I'd like my life back."

Few would argue that this was nothing other than incredibly crass. He has since apologised. And, crucially, he has got on with the job of attempting to sort out the mess.

He has also done it on his own. Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP's chairman, has been the invisible man, his conduct shameful. He has been summoned to meet President Obama this week.

The handsomely paid PR advisers to BP include Andrew Gowers, the former FT editor and head of PR at Lehman Brothers, which eventually went under in 2008. Surely he will be looking for new employment soon.

Hayward has, since the early days of the disaster, been asking the authorities what more his company can do to alleviate its impact. From President Obama's electioneering perspective, it's clearly much easier to lay further blame at the door of BP's management, rather than admit failings in home-grown bodies.

I don't know what else Tony Hayward can do to stop the hate campaign. He isn't smooth and he lacks the charm of many American CEOs. But does that mean he deserves this abuse?

Given his past life as a geologist, Hayward is well able to work out which rocks critics are throwing at him. Unfortunately, he isn't able to stop the barrage at the moment.

Could Lord Myners be the new man from the Pru? No, it's got to be a joke

Suggestions that Lord Myners, the former City minister, could resurrect his Square Mile career as chairman of the ailing insurer Prudential are laughable. He has few friends left in the Square Mile after his populist bashing of bankers and others who ply their trade in the City.

This is, of course, the same Lord Myners who managed to swell his bank account with a long City career before he entered politics.

If the suggestion that he could become the new Pru boss is a joke, the same could be said of his toe-curling speech in the Lords last week. In case you missed it, he criticised the Labour government for consistently spending more than it had in the public coffers. Fair enough, sir, but why did you stay quiet for 18 months when you were part of that administration? This belated intervention looks desperate and embarrassing, and will do little to ingratiate him with his former pals in the City.

Those same pals last week found out that the Office of Fair Trading will be looking into equity underwriting fees – something that Myners pushed for during his time in office.

Despite having to go through a similar process a decade ago, the OFT believes another study is necessary. It is probably right – many banks have scooped big fees for underwriting issues where the risk was negligible.

But the real pressure for change to the rights-issue process has to come from institutions, not the heavy hand of the regulator. The likes of Legal & General Investment Management made noises about bypassing the banks and going to firms directly last year, but eventually they all wimped out.

And the rights-issue horse bolted last year, with many of the UK's biggest firms taking the chance to raise cash and repair damaged balance sheets. We are unlikely to see a similar wave for a long time.

Like Lord Myners' interjection in the Other Place last week, it's all rather too little, too late.

In Dewar's footsteps: Neutered FSA set to lose top people

An acquaintance of mine was asked recently to apply for a job with the Financial Services Authority. He politely declined. I don't blame him.

This Wednesday at Mansion House, the Chancellor, George Osborne, will set out plans to further neuter the Canary Wharf-based financial services regulator, with a transfer of powers back to the Bank of England.

Those within the FSA can clearly see the writing on the wall. Last week, Sally Dewar, the well-regarded head of risk at the regulator, signalled her intention to quit. Others will likely follow suit.

At a time when the regulator is playing a more important role than ever, we cannot afford to lose such good people.

Over to you, George. It had better be good.

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