BP’s boss has become part of the story

FEW people would argue, and probably not even the man himself, that BP chief executive Tony Hayward has played a blinder in terms of PR amid the fallout from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Statements during initial stages of the spillage that the volume of oil involved was “tiny in relation to the total water volume” of the Gulf of Mexico and that the environmental impact of the disaster was “likely to be very, very modest” plainly made him something of a hostage to fortune.

But perhaps his biggest gaffe came in his attempt to apologise to the people of Louisiana, when oil first began to reach the coast of the southern US state, in which he said: “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.”

Given that 11 people will killed in the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon platform, which led to the oil spill, Mr Hayward’s choice of words was unfortunate in the extreme and he promptly issued a second apology for the tone of his first one ? a PR disaster in any terms.

Compared with this, however, his supposed “gaffe” at the weekend in spending a day sailing with his son around the Isle of Wight might be considered hardly to be worthy of comment.

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However, such a hate figure has Mr Hayward become that organisations from environmental groups to the White House queued up to have another crack at the beleaguered BP boss.

In the case of the White House the criticism was particularly rich given that President Obama, who has himself been striving to convince the people of the United States that he is doing his utmost in response to the crisis, had found time only the previous day for a round of golf.

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BP defended Mr Hayward, quite rightly, on the grounds that the sailing trip, as part of the JP Morgan Asset Management Round The Island Race, was his first day off since the spill began on April 20.

However, the fact that even such a trivial event now has the power to make headlines ought now to prompt the directors of BP to consider how much longer Mr Hayward can remain in post as chief executive.

He does not deserve such a fate. When the facts of the full saga are established and analysed, and the roles and actions of the other (dare one mention it, mainly American) companies and organisations involved are taken into account, BP may turn out not to be the most guilty party, if it is guilty at all.

But were Mr Hayward to move, or be moved, aside, the company’s critics would have to start focusing their attention on these broader issues. An attempt to treat a second chief executive as a scapegoat would convince nobody.

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