James Moore: Let’s think about OUR national interest as Pfizer guns for Astra

Outlook: It’s disturbing that the impact of a deal on the UK is barely being discussed in the corridors of power

Hunting season is officially open for America’s gun-totin’ multinationals.

General Electric is looking to land the trophy of Alstom in France, while Pfizer’s now officially come to Britain in the hopes of hauling AstraZeneca’s carcass back to hang above the doors of its corporate headquarters.

Care to guess who’s having an easier time of it? France is the nation that decided yoghurt was a strategic national asset, to keep Danone out of the cross-hairs of the likes of Pepsi and Kraft, both of which have at various times been linked to possible bids for the company.

True to form, the French government has warned GE that it will block any bid for Alstom that it doesn’t like. That might just mean any bid at all from GE, whatever its chief executive Jeff Immelt had to say when he met with French president Francois Hollande, given France’s preference for a European solution involving Siemens.

By contrast the question Pfizer has raised about Astra’s future as an independent company here is being brushed off as a “commercial matter between two companies”. Even though it concerns a sector – pharmaceuticals – deemed strategically vital to Britain’s future economic prosperity.

Let’s make one thing clear from the outset. I’m not about to argue for importing France’s approach to takeovers into Britain, not least because granting companies a pass when it comes to bids grants their managers a pass when it comes to doing their jobs.

UK plc needs the complacency in the boardroom that this leads to like teenaged boys need Pfizer’s Viagra.

The banking crisis is a graphic demonstration of the damage that can be caused by the self-regard and hubris of a corporate elite, in a sector deemed vital to the UK’s economic future, when it is coddled and cosseted.

Astra, which hasn’t been immune from the practice of handing over outsized packages for undersized performance, has been trying the patience of its shareholders for some time now.

It’s perked up a bit of late, and has some very interesting potential treatments in development. But investors could still be forgiven for questioning whether the company’s senior figures are capable of delivering on the promise these may offer.

It’s even debatable as to whether Astra should be considered a British company. Its operations are global and it’s run by a Frenchman. Pfizer is no different when it comes to America. It’s run by a Brit and such is its loyalty to Uncle Sam it prefers to spend the billions it has overseas on an expensive and potentially value-destructive deal with its rival rather than bring overseas profits home and pay tax on them.

All the same, it’s disturbing that the impact of a deal on the UK (and thousands of its citizens work at these two companies) is barely being discussed in the corridors of power. The interests of these two companies’ shareholders and executives take priority over those of the rest of the country. Perhaps we should think about changing that.

Can you spot the difference with Royal London?

“Recognisably Different” is the bold assertion splashed across the the front of Royal London’s annual report. But is it?

RL believes it can say that because it is one of the last remaining policyholder-owned mutuals in the life assurance sector. There is a widespread view that businesses owned by customers like this ought to do a better job for them.

But that has been challenged by recent events at the Co-op, which paid like a plc for performance that would embarrass even the most dysfunctional local authority, spent its members’ money on a succession of duff deals, and then wasted more on crazy corporate projects.

Is Royal London recognisably different from that? Take the issue of pay. Despite cutting the “mutual dividend” paid to its members by £7m last year, its chief executive Phil Loney saw his package rising by a staggering 51 per cent to £2.6m.

There’s also a questionable, if not crazy, corporate project on the boil in the form of a rebrand that the company admits will be expensive plus a cricket sponsorship whose benefit to members is debatable at best.

In reality, RL is a world away from the Co-op. Its failings are actually more in tune with the common or garden failings found among British plcs. Mr Loney is right when he says the freedom RL has from the demands of shareholders for short-term profits presents the insurer with an opportunity. But to capitalise on that it needs to be recognisably different in terms of its practice, not just its talk.

Standard Life keeps up its standards to blast Barclays

Standard Life proved last week that it isn’t necessary for a savings company to be mutually owned to act in its customers’ interests. In fact, Standard has become noticeably more active in discharging its duty on behalf of those whose money it invests since it surrendered its mutual status. A case in point comes in the form of its unprecedented public criticism last week of Barclays’ indefensible decision to pay more to its investment bankers for producing less.

And the goodwill it has generated by defying City protocol to air its grievances in public should be more than enough to sustain it through any sulkiness from Barclays.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Direct Marketing Manager - B2C, Financial Services - Slough

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity h...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - North West London - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Selby Jennings: Corporate Communications & Marketing Specialist – Geneva

120,000 - 150,000 chf + bonus: Selby Jennings: A leading Swiss Private Banking...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need