Archive for June, 2010

Obama puts BP in Deepwater

Posted in American Politics with tags , , on June 16, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

My first reaction to President Obama’s slating of BP was that those in glasshouses should not throw stones.  I certainly would have liked to bring American business practices in this country to the President’s attention, particularly in relation to Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury and the leveraged buy-outs of our two most successful football clubs which leaves both now cumulatively £1.5 billion in debt.

However, while it is clear that the President is justifiably seething with BP, cold political calculation is also playing a part here.  The President faces a difficult set of mid-term elections in November in which Louisiana, and in particular Florida, are likely to play key roles.  He will be desperate to avoid the sort of backlash that hit the Clinton Administration in 1994 that ushered in Newt Gingrich and his ‘Contract with America’, which all but stopped the previous Democratic Administration in its tracks.

I also suspect that Obama sees opportunity in this crisis.  One of the major stumbling blocks to reform in the US is the Senate, which remains precariously balanced with 57 Democrats, 42 Republicans and two independents, leaving the Democrats only  a handful of seats short of avoiding a filibuster, by which a Senator can literally talk a bill to death without it ever coming to vote.  Obama may be calculating that precious climate change and clean energy legislation can be rammed through the Senate with support of Gulf State Senators who dare not vote against such a bill at this moment in time.

Almost as big a question now is what happens to BP?  Again, Obama has put them on the rack by demanding a $20 billion escrow account to compensate all those affected by the Deepwater disaster.  The problem is that the money would most likely come from the shareholder’s multi-billion pound quarterly dividend which institutional investors are expecting in the coming weeks.  The Board is therefore stuck between a seething President of the United States and very nervous, and potentially very angry, shareholders.

The smart money at the moment is that BP will muddle through in the short term before being taken out by a competitor once the furor has died down.  This is infinitely preferable to bankruptcy, but whatever happens you have to suspect that this Board and the company is all but finished.

World Cup Blog: Oh go on then, I’ll support England!

Posted in Sport with tags , , on June 9, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Those who know me well will know that I like nothing more than a good England football crisis.  Turnip heads and headlines like “In the Name of God Go!”, Sven’s bedroom antics and FA incompetence have not induced despair over the years, but merely made me laugh. 

Of course that’s not to mention some of the actual performances on the field.  Who can forget the final game at the old Wembley, played in the pouring rain which ended in the 1:0 defeat to Germany and Keegan resigning in the toilets (what a metaphor!).  Or even better the shocking defeat to Croatia and Steve McClaren standing under his brolly.  My wife came into the living room half way through the first half that night and groaned, “Oh no, not football”.  I was quick to put her right, “no, no you have to watch this, it’s hilarious!”

In my opinion, these ‘crises’ have led to some of the finest football reporting ever committed to paper.  The dispatches of James Lawton of the Independent during the last World Cup should be required reading for budding sports journalists as Lawton’s temperature reached boiling point over the selection of 17 year-old Theo Walcott, WAGs, Baden Baden shopping trips, lacklustre training sessions and even worse performances during the actual matches.

Like many I suspect, I find it difficult to support any team with John Terry and Ashley Cole in it, but the roots of my apathy towards the England football team actually go much deeper.

I was brought up in the North of England and started to follow football in the late ‘70s when England, like now, played all their matches at Wembley.  In order to get to see England my father would have had to take at least one day off work (but realistically it would be more like two days) in order to travel to Wembley for the evening match.  England never ventured North and we didn’t have the time (and probably the money) to venture South.  I grew up therefore more interested in club football, not least because England’s most successful ever team were a mere 20 miles away.

I have been accused over the years of being unpatriotic over this, but that is rubbish.  In my book, being unpatriotic is refusing to go ‘over the top’ in the trenches when your country is at war, not feeling apathetic towards a football team you have never even seen live.

However, this time I admit I am torn and the reason is Fabio Capello.  I am in awe of the job this man has done, taking a group of under-performing, selfish, over-paid juveniles and turning them into a team, ruling with an iron fist.  I suspect he has had plenty of offers to write his autobiography, but he should turn them down and write a management text book instead.  His sacking of Terry was a case in point, clinical and concerned only with what is best for the team not the individual.

If we fail at this World Cup (and we probably will as I suspect fatigue from our domestic league obligations are already taking their toll on key players) I will refuse to accept it is Capello’s fault.  I draw the line at donning an England shirt, but this time I will tune in and support Don Fabio’s England.

Should the Telegraph stops its MP’s expenses investigations?

Posted in Media, Politics with tags , , on June 2, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

It is interesting that the fall of David Laws, who resigned as Chief Secretary to the Treasury over the weekend, has not been greeted with the same “serves him right” attitude that greeted last years’ revelations about duck houses, moats and second homes. 

None of the weekend’s revelations concerning either Laws or Danny Alexander are new, in the sense that The Telegraph is merely mining the CD of information it bought from Parliament’s Fees Office early last year.  Why haven’t these revelations about Laws or Alexander come to light before?  Because, simply, prior to joining the Cabinet, The Telegaph had not deemed either important enough to question or investigate the raw information it acquired, which merely tells them what was claimed, namely rent in Laws’ case, but not the identity of the landlord.

There can be little doubt that the initial Telegraph investigations of early 2009 was landmark investigative journalism and did the country a great service in exposing the corrupt ‘anything goes’ atmosphere at Westminster.  However, the collateral damage inflicted by this story with the effective ‘outing’ of Laws has left a nasty taste in many mouths and split many papers down the middle.  Michael White in The Guardian has questioned whether the press has lost the plot on this one, while Roy Greenslade in the same paper defends The Telegraph and calls it a legitimate public interest story.

The sense I have is that the general public, far from being outraged at Laws’ behavior, appears at best concerned at the violation of privacy and at worst apathetic.  It would appear that the law of diminishing returns might also be at work here for The Telegraph, with each revelation grabbing less and less attention outside the Westminster bubble. 

We now have a new Parliament.  The rotten apples have either been thrown out or been forced to account for themselves at a General Election.  Certainly, our newspapers should remain vigilant and call MPs to account but, while dragging up information that is nearly a decade old in Laws’ case can constitute a legitimate public interest, I’m not sure his resignation and ‘outing’ serves the public interest .  Perhaps it is time to move on.