1996 was a revolutionary year for gentlemen right across the globe, as a Pfizer team in Kent invented and patented Viagra as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. It was evidence that the world stands just that little bit prouder when an American drug firm works with British science.
At this week’s Prime Minister’s Question Time (PMQs) Ed Miliband was definitely not on the Viagra as he recorded one of his limpest performances ever. He was trying to stick it to the Prime Minister over the proposed takeover of Astrazeneca by Pfizer, but what he produced was an embarrassing flop.
He started by grudgingly accepting that there has been good news today on unemployment figures. He then asked what further assurances the PM is seeking from Pfizer about the takeover. The PM suggested that the government needed to get “stuck in” to negotiations, something that Miliband had failed to do so far.
The Prime Minister then pointed out that Ed had been offered a meeting with Pfizer but was “too busy political campaigning.” Cameron described the leader of the opposition as having “quite literally put party politics ahead of national interest.”
Miliband then accused the PM of negotiating with Pfizer “over the heads of the Astrazeneca board”, and claimed that Cameron was now Pfizer’s “PR man”. Once again Cameron told Miliband that the only way to get concessions on jobs and investment was to get “stuck in” and make sure guarantees were “as firm as possible”. Amen to that.
Then referring to yesterday’s Select Committee appearance by the head of Pfizer, Miliband asked if any job cuts would take place in the UK if the takeover went ahead. The PM then confirmed what assurances he’d been given on research and development. He once again pointed out his negotiating strategy “I say get stuck in, negotiate hard and stand up for Britain”. Something that Ed had failed to do.
Miliband then asked about carving up of the merged company, to which Cameron pointed out that Labour had failed to stop the carve up of Cadbury by Craft. The PM pointed out that the power to stop takeovers due to a “public interest test” had been abolished by Ed Miliband when he was at the Treasury. Hardly a stand-up performance Ed!
Cameron then accused Ed of using the Pfizer/Astrazeneca takeover as a smoke screen to attempt to mask the improvements in the economy. He said: “the country is getting stronger, as he is getting weaker”. Ed claimed that Cameron was wrong to believe “the market always knows best”.
Backbench contributions came from Sir Roger Gale (Con, Centerbury), who asked a question about Manston Airport. The question itself seemed to be even longer than Manston’s runway, but he in the end he did manage to split it out. Richard Harrington (Con, Watford) also offered an oddly theatrical performance that went on a little longer than the house might have wanted.
Former Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans (Con, Ribble Valley), asked a question about local planning, and was referred to as “my honourable friend” by the Prime Minister. Last time he was on his feet was before his trial for rape, and the PM gave him a much more frosty reception.
Kerry McCarthy (Lab, Bristol East) asked about X Factor Judge, Gary Barlow’s tax affairs. She mused whether he had been left off lightly for aggressive tax avoidance because he is a Conservative. Cameron replied by saying that he was saying to tax avoiders “we want your money back for good”. The reference to Barlow’s hit with Take That was the best joke of the day but it was not a high bar!
Anyone watching PMQs will also have noticed what appeared to be the Chancellor George Osborne, chatting and joking with someone on the opposite side of the chamber. Perhaps he did not realise the camera angle made this clearly visible. Naughty naughty.
Overall: There’s no shame in being a little limp every now and again. But remember Ed you’ll be impotent at getting anything out of Pfizer if you are not at least willing to try to get stuck in. You can never rise to a challenge unless you try, and you can’t be the hard man of politics unless you can stick it to Cameron.