The really big divide between Labour and the Tories is over the free-for-all, anything-goes capitalist ideology which has hitherto been dominant in the West for the last 30 years. It was ruthlessly imposed on this country during the Thatcher era and shamefully taken further during the Blair interregnum. Its central tenet was : Leave it all to the market and the government should not intervene in anything (except to give tax breaks and capital grants to big business and turn a blind eye to industrial-scale corporate tax avoidance). This toxic ideology is now coming to a head in the attempted takeover of AstraZeneca by the US multinational Pfizer. AZ is a UK national champion in the key pharmaceutical sector where Britain is a world leader, whilst Pfizer has a notorious record of shutting sites it takes over leaving a trail of large-scale redundancies and research facilities closed down (e.g. its research centre at Sandwich in Kent which developed Viagra was shut down with 2,400 skilled job layoffs). The attitude of any British government to this should be a no-brainer. Yet Cameron is actually acting as Pfizer’s cheerleader, as Ed Miliband has rightly complained.
How can Cameron be so anti-British? We might be appalled, but perhaps we should not be surprised. Cameron’s pollster, Mark Textor, once acted as lobbyist for Pfizer, and one of Cameron’s main aides, Gabby Bertin, was once in the pay of Pfizer. Also Cameron’s campaign manager, Lynton Crosby, has a long record of lobbying behind the scenes to promote corporate gain against the public interest (e.g. to block cigarette plain packaging in defiance of the health damage). Even despite this background, the degree of Cameron’s promotion of the Pfizer cause, even before a formal bid has been made, is extraordinary. What this highlights is just how far unqualified adherence to an indiscriminate open market system has now become a fetish, not only on the Tory right, but once again for Cameron himself carried along as ever on the flood tide of far-right ideology. No other country in the Western world (even probably including the US) would allow the crown jewels of its industrial strength to be appropriated by a foreign predator. And this is not a one-off exception: it is just the latest in an endless stream of sell-outs to foreign rivals – indeed in the decade before the 2008-9 crash foreign takeovers of British industry doubled to no less than half of national output. Two arguments are raised in defence of this folly. One is that in a globalised economy it doesn’t matter who owns a company, it will still be run by maximising short-term profits. This profoundly wrong because such companies always in the last analysis favour their own home country for R&D, top management and key investments. Second, it is said (by Cameron among others) that Pfizer has given firm promises to preserve the British scientific base and British jobs. But after the US Kraft takeover of Cadbury’s when the predator then rapidly disowned all its pre-takeover pledges, are Pfizer’s promises worth the paper they’re written on?