Paul Foot

Big Business and Government
Tony Blair’s well oiled machine

(October 2000)

From News Review, Socialist Review, No.245, October 2000, p.5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The reports of the ‘crisis meetings’ between Blair and Co and the oil company chiefs have been greeted with profound merriment in the corridors of oil power. The prime minister and his ruthless home secretary, Jack Straw – were widely reported to have issued ‘stern warnings’ to the executives about their duty to the public, and even threats that unless they got the oil moving they could all be in serious trouble.

The merriment arises from the fact that no section of British industry has provided more of New Labour’s business initiatives than oil. The best example is Nick Butler, who is so senior in BP that he can’t afford to be a cabinet minister. Butler has been an ideological pillar of New Labour ever since he wrote a book with Neil Kinnock in 1987 trying to persuade people to vote Labour because the party had changed its attitude to shareholders and had been converted to the case for making money for nothing. Butler was not available for comment after that first tense meeting with the prime minister – indeed, in the interests of a free press, no oil executive would appear in any media until the dispute was almost over.

Butler’s squeamishness about taking a ministerial post was not shared by Lord Simon, former chairman of BP, who was Blair’s choice as his first minister for Europe. Somehow Simon managed to take his new post without sacrificing a penny of his vast shareholding in BP, and without batting an eyelid when his company’s association with the drug barons of Colombia was exposed.

The Simon connection did not last long, but there are plenty of other associations between oil industry bosses and the Labour government many of which are set out in the 22 September issue of Private Eye. In 1998, during his brief career as trade secretary (before he was sacked for borrowing nearly £400,000 from the government’s paymaster general to buy an appropriate London mansion), Peter Mandelson set up an oil price ‘task force’. Its task was to keep the price of oil up in defiance of the market, and its force included the managing directors of Shell, Texaco and BP Exploration.

Other bizarre appointments of the same kind include: Shell chairman Mark Moody-Stuart to chair the renewable energy task force; Jyoti Munsiff, Shell’s company secretary, as a member of the government’s sustainable development education panel; Bryan Sanderson, BP’s managing director, as chairman of the Learning and Skills Council; Stella Earnshaw, former regional finance chief for Shell, as a member of the Funding Agency for Schools; John Harte (Shell) and John Morgan (BP} to the Oil and Pipelines Agency which oversees bulk transportation for the Ministry of Defence, (These appointments could be embarrassing if the government sends in the army to sort out the oil crisis.) As for the NHS – which health secretary Milburn put on ‘red alert’ during the crisis – did anyone hear a word of protest from Bryan Grote, an influential member of the government’s public services productivity council, set up by new Labour 1998 to deliver improvements in productivity and efficiency’? Mr Grote is executive vice-president of BP.


Last updated on 27.11.2004