The BP oil spill is exposing cross-Atlantic differences on the best public face to present amid crisis. Britons – tens of thousands of whom are BP shareholders – appreciate stoicism, but Americans want emotion and contrition.
Surely, who but a small club of wealthy investors could shed a tear for BP, which has seen a quarter of its share value wiped out since the beginning of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill?
Clue: remember what those initials stand for.
If you thought that fat-cat shareholders were the only losers from the oil giant’s pounding on the international markets, then spare a thought for tens of thousands of ordinary Britons whose futures are heavily linked to the firm’s fortunes.
Shareholder dividends paid out by BP last year accounted for as much as £1 in every £7 paid by the biggest 100 firms into Britain’s pension funds and saving plans.
So when BP's shares plunge as a result of President Obama's initiation of a criminal investigation into the Macondo oil well disaster, British pensions take a hammering as well.
It’s also why many on this side of the Atlantic are more than sympathetic to the challenge facing BP's embattled chief executive, Tony Hayward, who is expected to risk incurring further wrath in the US by defying calls from US senators to halt more than $10 billion worth of payouts due to shareholders this year.
Mr. Hayward, now believed to be battling to hang on to his job, returned to London from the US last night to speak to investors.
One commentator in a leading right-wing British newspaper this week accused President Obama of “vitriol” that was “unwise and potentially dangerous” for saying that he was “enraged and heartbroken” after BP's attempts to staunch the flow had failed.
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