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
Voices
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
News
i100
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
  • Get to the point
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power