It's BP, not British Petroleum, ever since Maggie Thatcher privatized the government's stake in the energy giant back in the 1980s. But the stakes involve a large chunk of the UK's national wealth, not to mention their national pride.
From Foreign Policy:
There has been extensive coverage in Britain of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But now it is not the environmental damage that is the big issue; it is the economic damage to BP caused by American politicians, including the president, as they demand that BP pay for the cleanup as well as compensation, and are now demanding the company not pay its shareholders dividends. ...
Influential Tory commentators have also joined in with calls for Cameron to defend BP. "I hope David Cameron has the balls to ring Obama today for 'a full and frank discussion' -- diplomatic language for a blazing row," writes Iain Dale, a leading Conservative columnist. Tim Montgomerie, a prominent activist who runs the site ConservativeHome, says he hopes that "behind-the-scenes channels are being used" to convey the British government's displeasure. The Daily Telegraph's Jeremy Warner ripped Obama for "crass populism which shows very poor statesmanship."
Cameron is scheduled to speak by phone with Obama over the weekend, and the former British ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, has been on the BBC's The World At One program arguing it is time for the new prime minister to take up BP's cause with the U.S. president. "The survival and ultimate prosperity of BP is a vital British interest, and I think the time has come to point it out, at a senior level, to the U.S. administration," he said. ...
But the debate that has erupted in Britain is motivated by more than hurt national pride. The value of BP shares has plummeted 47 percent since April, when the rig exploded, and this is hitting British pocketbooks. Last year, around 14 percent of all dividends in the country's leading share index, the FTSE 100, were paid by BP, and it is estimated that one pound in every six in pension funds comes from BP. So it's not just CEO Tony Hayward whose livelihood is being threatened -- it's those of thousands of ordinary Britons, too.
Mr. Obama has made no secret of his disdain for the Brits. I'd hate to think that it has clouded his judgment in dealing with this spill.
Cross-posted at VladEnBlog.