You might have thought that John Browne was beyond sympathy. Not just the head of a rapacious multinational oil company, but the head of a rapacious multinational oil company incapable of providing basic duty of care to its own employees. Let’s have the highlights of that Chemical Safety Board report one more time: “For the last ten years, maintenance budget allocation has been controlled centrally by a ‘top down’ allocation of funds.” Consultants warned that they had “never seen such intensity of worry among people ‘closest to the valve’ about the potential for fires, explosions and other catastrophic events.” “The BP chief executive and the BP board of directors did not exercise effective safety oversight.”
You might have thought Browne was beyond sympathy. But that would be to reckon without the power of Associated Newspapers. The Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday are like unbeatable cards in a nightmarish game of political top-trumps. They are a vortex into which all leftist rage is sucked; their sheer loathsomeness lets all other cultural evil off the hook. So, this week, one finds oneself cursing the fact that the boss of BP has been forced into early retirement. Such is the power of the Mail.
Marvel at their sheer disingenuous gall. “The story we originally sought to publish was a business story [sic] involving issues of great importance to shareholders and employers of BP. Lord Browne chose to suppress this story by arguing to the high court that, because the story was supplied to us by his former lover, Mr Chevalier, it breached his right to a private life under the Human Rights Act.” The Mail, you understand, couldn’t care less about Browne’s private life. It hadn’t even occurred to them to mention Browne’s sexuality, until he himself started parading it in the high court. If it was up to the Mail, Browne’s relationship with Chevalier wouldn’t even have made it into the papers. But, sadly, Browne forced their hand.
That’s why Tuesday’s Mail ran a front page photo of Browne going through his paperwork, and a think piece about the appropriate relationship between work and private life for business leaders. No, wait. It ran a photo of Browne and Chevalier on holiday together. Still, at least the Sun had BP shareholders foremost in its mind. Its front-page headline: “The Tycoon and the Rent Boy”.
The business improprieties, the perjury, the judge’s comments: for the tabloids, these are not the story. They are a pretext – a public-interest alibi for a homophobic agenda. Without which, Browne would not have been in court at all.
Bastards. Bastards. Bastards.