06/11/2010 06:55 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The View From Britain: 'It's Not Us, It's You'

As the oil spill grows to match the size of England's green and pleasant land, there are signs that the famous British 'stiff upper lip' is starting to quiver.

Writing in Britain's right wing Daily Telegraph newspaper Thursday morning, the commentator Damian Reece devised an ingenious equation to justify his assertion that the slick isn't as bad as you soft-headed Americans would have us believe. "If you take the 1,356 total dead or alive creatures collected...then BP shareholders are currently paying £36.6m per animal based on the fall in the company's value. That has got to be an overreaction even in the hysterical world of President Barack Obama."

The front page of the Telegraph also carries the headline, "Obama's boot on the throat of British pensioners," and the paper quotes James Kenney, an oil analyst at ING, saying, "The US reaction is getting towards hysterical."

These comments are strikingly similar to the sentiment expressed by BP boss Tony Hayward when he described the environmental damage from the spill as "likely to be very, very modest" and declared "I want my life back". The comments reflect a growing mood amongst Britain's right wing establishment that you Americans are getting overly excited, and that the worst environmental disaster in recent US history is little more than a storm in a teacup.

As Hayward himself put it, "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume."

Yes, it looks like BP won't need to rely simply on their two new PR supremos - Cheney's former press secretary, Anne Womack-Kolton, and George W Bush's former chief of staff, Josh Bolten, because the company's friends in the UK media and political establishment are also leaping to the company's defense. In seeking to join hands across the Atlantic with their US counterparts like Liz Cheney and Sarah Palin, the British right wing press are making a concerted effort to shift the blame for the spill away from BP and onto Barack Obama.

In a clear snub to the President, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson claimed this morning that BP was a victim of "anti-British rhetoric," which he described as "permeating from America." Mayor Johnson told the BBC's flagship Today program, "When you consider the huge exposure of British pension funds to BP it starts to become a matter of national concern if a great British company is being continually beaten up on the airwaves." The Mayoral view was echoed by former Conservative Party trade minister Lord Tebbit, who uses an interview in this morning's influential Daily Mail newspaper to accuse Obama of "despicable" anti-British language. Tebbit accused President Obama on his blog of, "a crude, bigoted, xenophobic display of partisan political Presidential petulance."

Over the last few years US citizens who criticised the Iraq war or America's response to the climate crisis have consistently come under fire for being "anti-American". The British press have now wised up to the tactic, and are tapping into exactly the same pseudo patriotism to accuse vast swathes of Americans, including President Obama, of being "anti-British."

Never mind that BP's contingency plan for the event of an oil spill was riddled with falsehoods and errors. Never mind the fact that that BP has reported more accidents and blowouts than any other oil company operating in Gulf waters, with one classified report showing how the company "neglected key equipment needed for an emergency shutdown, including safety shutoff valves and gas and fire detectors similar to those that could have helped prevent the fire and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig." Never mind the evidence which reveals BP's record of serial criminal safety violations in America with OSHA statistics showing the company ran up 760 "egregious, willful" safety violations. In spite of all of this, the message from the British right is 'For goodness sake, pull yourselves together.'

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