Packets of prescription drugs made by the pharmaceutical firms AstraZeneca and Pfizer on May 7, 2014 in Cambridge. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour cheers a victory for the producers over the predators

AstraZeneca rejects Pfizer's final offer for the company. 

Is it all over for Pfizer? The board of AstraZeneca has this morning rejected its final offer of £69.4bn (£55 per share) for the company on the grounds that it fails to recognise its full value.

Chairman Leif Johansson rightly pointed out that Pfizer appeared to be primarily motivated by the tax advantage it would gain from being domiciled in the UK (where corporation tax is 21 per cent compared to the headline US rate of 35 per cent) and had failed to offer adequate guarantees over investment. He said:

Pfizer's approach throughout its pursuit of AstraZeneca appears to have been fundamentally driven by the corporate financial benefits to its shareholders of cost savings and tax minimisation. From our first meeting in January to our latest discussion yesterday, and in the numerous phone calls in between, Pfizer has failed to make a compelling strategic, business or value case. The Board is firm in its conviction as to the appropriate terms to recommend to shareholders.

Provided that AstraZeneca's shareholders choose to approve its decision, the company will survive in its current form.

Labour's criticism of Pfizer's approach, and its threat to block the deal by introducing a new public interest test in May 2015, undoubtedly played a role in stiffening the board's sinews. Chuka Umunna, who grasped the significance of the bid (the largest proposed foreign takeover in British history) from the start, has welcomed AstraZeneca's decision this morning, tweeting that "In the decision of AZ's board we see the long term overcoming the short term, fast buck mentality we need to see less of in UK business" and that "We don't want to see the takeover of great British firms driven by financial engineering - we want them to be driven by long term investment". 

The Tories sought to present Labour's demand for a tougher public interest test as crude state interventionism but it was hard for them to do so when figures such as Michael Heseltine, an economic adviser to the government, and Lord Sainsbury also questioned whether the deal was in the national interest. 

Heseltine called for the introduction of "reserve powers" to protect British companies when assets such as the country's science base are at risk."Foreign takeovers can often be hugely helpful and I have no doctrinal preoccupations - I've done enough takeovers of small businesses myself to know how valuable they can be. But the important point is that every other advanced economy has mechanisms of some sort on a failsafe basis to scrutinise foreign takeovers and we're the only country that doesn't."

As Heseltine said, there is no major western country in which it is easier for a foreign firm to take over a domestic company than the UK. If Britain is to move towards the "responsible capitalism" championed by Miliband, this will need to change. 

By holding out against Pfizer, AstraZeneca has set an important precedent that will deter future predators from seeking to capture more great British companies. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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