Daily Archives: April 21, 2011


Browne – Destroyer of the Gulf of Mexico and British University Teaching

If you read through the official report on the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, you will find that it was Lord Browne who created the corporate atmosphere that led directly to the disaster with his low cost, high risk approach:

Returning to London in 1989, he reorganized BP’s exploration arm; Browne slashed expenditures, established a rigid—if not ruthless—performance ethic, and refocused on high-risk but potentially high-reward opportunities. Upon becoming chief executive in 1995, he directed a major part of BP’s upstream focus to the deepwater Gulf. In the deals he negotiated to acquire Amoco and ARCO, BP emerged with a greatly expanded portfolio of Gulf leases and assets.

There is an exact parallel between Browne’s tenure at BP and Fred Goodwin’s at the Royal Bank of Scotland. Massive risks taken for short term reward, costs slashed, huge mergers to add incredible fake book value, but in fact no proper management or integration of these assets. Unlike Goodwin, Browne had got out to count his cash before the inevitable result of the high risk, low cost, massive growth culture which he had instituted, brought the company crashing down.

Presumably it was his reputation for cost-slashing that led New Labour to appoint Browne to recommend on the future of university tuition fees. It annoys me immensely that people so readily forget that it was indeed New Labour who first introduced tuition fees for English students, who appointed Browne, and were committed to accepting his conclusions.

In a rational world a chancer (literally) like Browne would not be allowed anywhere near something as fundamental to society as the future of academia. But we live in an age where the political class of all main parties has fundamentally failed the people. And as three quarters of English universities have now confirmed they will be charging fees of £9,000 a year, we are in a system where the government will no longer be paying nett for any university tuition, only for research. As research grant allocation is competitive, academics have to concentrate on this, and we will see a continuation of the trend whereby undergraduates get very little tutor contact for all that money and debt.

It is heartrending. The system of free education which changed my whole life, has been destroyed. And my generation did the destorying.

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The Sun Never Sets

I first read Byron Farwel through his biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton. lt was the peculiar fact that there are six modern biographies of Burton and only one very slight one of Alexander Burnes, which spurred me on to my current project. I came across this Farwell quote today while researching:

“It is difficult for anyone to understand the reasoning behind the extraordinary British attitude to Afghanistan; the Afghans must have found it impossible. While always protesting friendship, the British repeatedly invaded the country and shot at its inhabitants.” (Queen Victoria’s Little Wars, 1972, p.4)

Forty years on, Farwell might be surprised how completely true his analysis remains. I am still firmly of the view that the only way to throw off the imperial aggression of the United Kingdom once and for all, is to split it back to its constituent nations.

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