Leading article: Now BP has made its ritual sacrifice, we must regain a sense of proportion

Share
Related Topics

The term kangaroo court is not, as might be supposed, Australian.

It is American and it dates from the California Gold Rush, when miners established places of rough justice to deal with claim jumpers. Seeing the chief executive of BP, Tony Hayward, in front of a US Congressional committee this week, it could be concluded that America has lost none of its appetite for emotive summary justice.

It was an unedifying performance all round. The politicians were distinguished more by a barrage of outraged statements and claims, rather than probing or insightful questioning. The protesters allowed in with their anti-BP banners, along with the tar-daubed heckler, only added to an impression of more heat than light. But then Mr Hayward did not make life easy for himself.

True, he had to suffer more than an hour's lambasting in silence before he was allowed to speak. But when he did, he contrived, no doubt at the insistence of BP's lawyers, to say very little. According to one count, he replied "I don't know" more than 65 times. In one sense all this is understandable. This is the worst environmental accident the US has ever suffered; 11 people died and the livelihoods of tens of thousands have been compromised.

Set against that, BP – despite some cack-handed statements by its bosses – has mobilised thousands of conservationists and has already paid compensation to 18,000 people. It has identified seven key areas in need of investigation, begun that process and vowed that action will be taken against anyone found guilty of putting costs ahead of safety. And this week it has agreed a $20bn fund with President Obama to cover the cost of clean-up and compensation; $20bn is serious money, even to a giant oil firm.

But more will be achieved with a spirit of co-operation than with the kind of confrontation seen this week, which had about it the high hysteria of the lynch mob. Most disturbing was the politicians' insistence on calling BP, which changed its name 12 years ago, by its old title, British Petroleum. There is a facile nationalist populism about that. There is a lie at its heart, too, for BP has more American shareholders than British. But there is a grave danger in such obscurantism. It will benefit neither side of the Atlantic if a company like BP, in which all our pensions have shareholdings, is pushed into crisis because of the posturing and pandering of a group of US politicians who, significantly, are facing re-election in November.

To date, the British Government has walked a nicely judged line. The Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, has made clear its sympathy for the US administration's determination to make BP pay in full for the massive oil spill. But the Prime Minister has also privately told Mr Obama that it is in no one's interests to push BP to the wall. The danger is that the deal the US President has forced from the company could prove open-ended, with claims for lost trade from every small business in Louisiana. Washington and London should both understand that, now the ritual sacrifices have been made to the gods of politics, a sense of proportion must be maintained for as long as it takes to work through the consequences of this disaster.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent