Ross Clark Ross Clark

Bernard Looney and the sinister policing of office romances

Bernard Looney (Photo: Getty)

I doubt whether many people will feel a pang of sympathy for Bernard Looney, former chief executive of BP who has just resigned over his failure to fully disclosure historic relationships with fellow employees. Perhaps he should have resigned last year when he declared proudly that high oil prices had turned BP into a ‘cash machine’ – a remark which hastened the imposition of a windfall tax which the industry may come bitterly to regret the next time oil prices crash. Yet the remark didn’t do Looney much personal harm – his pay was doubled last year to over £4 million. He will have a pretty decent pension, too, to go off and spend more time on his love life.

For the most part, there is something extremely creepy about a corporation attempting to take over the lives of its employees

Yet something makes me rather uneasy about Looney’s downfall. Is it really the business of the BP board to poke its nose into the personal relationships of its employees? It used to be accepted that people who worked together would ask each other out and might even end up getting married. That was just ordinary life. Then arrived US-style corporate culture which saw any relationships between employees as suspicious. In some cases relationships between staff have been banned, and in others romantically-intwined employees have been made to sign a ‘consensual relationship agreement’ – as if it were only a corporation’s compliance department which can ensure that Brian from accounts isn’t locking Brenda from HR into a cellar and forcing her into a bondage session every evening after they leave work – or vice versa.

True, there might be extreme circumstances where a relationship would need to be declared, such as where one department was having to investigate another and the heads of both were having a secret fling.

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