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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
i100
Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

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

Helpdesk Analyst

£23000 per annum + pension and 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ...

Senior Helpdesk Analyst / Service Desk Co-ordinator

£27000 per annum + pension, 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ind...

Senior Pensions Administrator

£23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Administrator

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Admini...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album