It didn't quite work out that way, however.
First, the 100-odd attendees were met by a banner outside the hotel, reminding them that BP is, always has been, and always will be a climate-cooking fossil fuel company. Everyone received a leaflet and a few friendly words about BP's less salubrious activities around the world.
Once everyone had filed in and found a seat beneath the chandeliers, a tall, fair, shiny BP PR rep called Adam took the stage. He barely had a chance to introduce himself before two audience members strolled onto the platform and told the crowd that actually, they had a five minute presentation about BP that they'd like to give first.
A friendly discussion ensued, with Adam ramping up his smarmy charm to the max, insisting that he “really wanted to hear” what the pair had to say but that he really ought to give his 10-minute BP spiel first. The crowd were getting restless so eventually the tenacious two agreed to let him speak, so long as they got their slot afterwards.
Poor Adam. He did his best to get through his ten minutes of cuddly corporate Powerpoint slides, but was clearly thrown off his game, sweating and stumbling over his words, insisting that he cared about the environment (“I love the countryside”) and that was why he had joined an equally caring company like BP. The most excruciating part was watching him put up slides about careers in oil and gas exploration, extraction and financing, and trying to crowbar in pre-emptive stuff about the environment and “alternative energy” that clearly weren't part of the original plan. He wasn't helped by another outspoken audience member who asked him, mid-spiel, why BP had spent more money on its green sunflower rebranding than on its annual renewable energy budget.
Adam rushed through his last few slides, and then it was the turn of the two intrepid stage-invaders. They launched into a calm, professional and utterly convincing explanation of what BP was up to around the world, why major oil companies aren't part of the solution to climate change, and why the assembled graduates really ought to consider an alternative career. No sooner had they finished than a member of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign appeared at the podium. Despite Adam's flustered requests for him not to speak, he launched into a powerful first-hand account of BP's activities in Colombia – their complicity in environmental destruction, the crushing of peaceful social movements, and the funding and training of death squads. The room listened in awed silence, and applauded at the end.
Adam's Blair-like facade of reasonableness was pretty stretched at this point, but he still managed to say something bare-faced like “that's why it's so exciting to work at BP – we need to get to grips with all these difficult challenges”, before asking two new BP recruits from the graduate programme to stand up and talk about their experiences.
As these two poor stooges rattled hastily through their prepared talks, all was not well in the audience. Loud arguments seemed to be breaking out in scattered points throughout the crowd, about why on earth they were at an event sponsored by such a dreadful company. One after another, all around the audience, angry people stood up and stormed out (or at least stormed as far as the wine and canape area at the back). Some of them weren't even activists. Meanwhile, the bolshiest audience member was again demanding answers from Adam, and one bright spark put his hand up and asked “so, do we get taught how to kill Colombians as part of the graduate training scheme?”
Things were clearly not going to plan, but BP still had a card to play – it was time to break up for wine and nibbles, and a dozen chirpy young BP employees from their various divisions were ready to mingle through the crowd and reassure everyone that BP was trying its best, you know, and it wasn't really as bad as the nasty activists were saying. Unfortunately, there seemed to be as many undercover (or completely blatant) campaigners in the crowd as there were BP staff. Every small group seemed to have someone in it pointing out the hypocrisy of BP's greenwash, and how there were so many better things that graduates could do with their lives than work for an oil and gas multinational.
BP must have spent thousands of pounds on this event. I wonder if they feel like it was money well spent?
A final thought: E.ON, of Kingsnorth coal-burning “fame”, are currently holding a series of recruitment days at universities around the country...
Thames Valley Climate Action meets every Monday at 7pm at the East Oxford Community Centre.
PS If the two speakers happen to be reading this and want to post the text of their presentation here, it could be a good thing to share...