AstraZeneca good, Pfizer bad? It's not as simple as that, unfortunately

Outlook If the future of AstraZeneca were to be decided by public relations, Pfizer would by now have departed these shores with its tail between its legs, never to return.

We like to think in terms of goodies and baddies and Pfizer has been cast firmly in the role of baddie. It's become the corporate pantomime villain we love to hate.

The immediate media reaction to yesterday's hearing of the Business Select Committee demonstrated that.

AstraZeneca's boss Pascal Soriot warned darkly that the disruption created by a merger could delay the development of vital new drugs and that people could die as a result.

Pfizer has already been successfully portrayed as a heartless and evil tax avoiding, asset stripping American corporate thug of the first order. Now it's much worse than that: now it's a corporate killer. Booo, hisssss. Pass out the rotten tomatoes. How long is it before Ukip pops up with an opportunistic cry of "send 'em back to where they came from"?

Here's the thing – and no, I'm not on Pfizer's payroll and I didn't have a conversation with its malfunctioning PR machine before writing this – Mr Soriot is throwing bricks from a glass house.

The clue is in the name: AstraZeneca. This is a company that was itself the creation of a mega-merger. Moreover, it has been heavily involved in wheeling and dealing just as Pfizer has, gobbling up a succession of smaller pharma firms over the years.

As the charge that Pfizer is a ruthless cost cutter, again, what of Astra? Faced with falling profits and the need to keep investors sweet, Astra's executives have also fallen back on the City's drug of choice – slashing costs and jobs, including research posts.

Moreover, while the "assurances" Pfizer has given about the UK don't amount to a hill of beans, yesterday's appearance before the committee by its chief executive and finance director says a lot. The committee has no powers of subpoena. When the bosses of food giant Kraft were invited to testify over their plans to eat Cadbury, they greeted the summons with raised middle fingers and stayed away before trampling over the assurances they had given about their plans when they won the day.

Pfizer is different. It wants to be here, and for the long term. And so it wants to play nice. In part, it's true, because the tax situation is favourable. But the reason we set it up like that was to encourage people like Pfizer to do business here. That's not to say Pfizer's plans are necessarily good for this country. This deal remains, on balance, a bad one for UK plc. And the apparent powerlessness (or inertia) of the Government in the face of Pfizer's activities given Astra's strategic importance to the UK should disturb us and spark an urgent debate.

But the debate that is currently being conducted around the merger itself has become dominated by half truth, illusion and spin. Pfizer is not quite the baddie it seems and Astra, whose chief executive has said he will accept a compelling offer, remember, is anything but the goodie.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?