Andrew Rawnsley presents the first programme in a new series of the live, studio-based debate programmes which take the form of newspaper leader conferences.
He is joined by five prominent journalists, who write leading articles or editorials for their newspapers, representing the press in the nations of the UK and across the English regions as well as the leading national newspapers.
Three subjects in the news will be decided upon and discussed. Two of these reflect current events at home and abroad - and prompt lively and provocative discussion. The third subject is in a lighter vein.
Contributions from listeners are also encouraged throughout the programme and particularly at the start for the component they shape most: that final leader which is heard towards the end of the programme.
Following the discussion of each of the three subjects, Andrew invites one of his guests to draw up on air the "leader" for that subject setting out its main points. This important component of the programme helps ensure that resolution of the debate is achieved for listeners and that the full range of views expressed is reflected.
The leaders are posted online at the Radio 4 website following the programme.
Producer Simon Coates.
AstraZeneca and Pfizer; Nigerian schoolgirls; and creativity on screen.
In the first edition of the new series of Leader Conference, Andrew Rawnsley was joined by Sarah Sands of the London Evening Standard; Rafael Behr of the New Statesman; Ruth Sunderland of the Daily Mail; Phil Collins of the Times; and Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror.
They debated: the possible takeover bid for AstraZeneca by Pfizer; the abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls; and creativity on screen.
Fizzing with Pfizer?
AstraZeneca is a hugely important company for not only the British pharmaceutical industry but also the UK economy. The Anglo-Swedish drugs giant, with a market value of nearly £60 billion, helps to undergird this country’s strong tradition in the life sciences and to offer well-paid jobs in pioneering research―albeit significantly fewer than it once did. We are therefore concerned about the possible implications of the company being taken over by its transatlantic rival, Pfizer. The American firm, famous for its development of Viagra, has made no secret of its ambition, should it launch a bid, to base the enlarged group in Britain rather than the US in order to reap a significant tax advantage. The business case for a tie-up should be stronger than that.
However, our concerns are not based on reflex hostility to global mergers. After all, British companies have acquired assets abroad with important knock-on benefits for this country. Encouraging large innovative companies to locate in Britain too can bring investment and jobs, provide a stronger competitive edge and promote long-term growth. Britain’s rules on takeovers and mergers are among the most liberal in the developed world partly to achieve these aims and help foster a dynamic economy. But they must not be abused.
We therefore recommend that the Business Secretary set a number of tests for Pfizer to satisfy before any bid is approved. These include determining how far a deal would add value to the sector in the UK; satisfying himself that the new company would meet its tax obligations; and requiring it to demonstrate a commitment to developing new drugs and treatments in Britain and to maintaining employment. These are not anti-competitive requirements but they would help secure a deal based on sound business logic and innovative science that is potentially a major prize for the country as a whole.
Education, education, education
The reaction to this week’s murder of Ann Maguire at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds has underlined how a good teacher is beyond price. Nigerians, it is clear, feel the same way―as the million-woman march in the capital, Abuja, on 30th April made clear. It was held in support of the more than 200 teenage girls who were abducted from their boarding school in the north-east of the country by followers, it is claimed, of the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram. Loosely translated, the group’s title means “Western education is forbidden”. We find this group and its objectives abhorrent and believe that Western countries need to demonstrate their opposition to its aims explicitly and unequivocally. They have done this against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, supporting the work of Malala Yousafzai, for example. It needs to be done in Nigeria too.
After all, if such an event had befallen teenagers in the UK or the US, we can be sure that the news would have been dominated by their plight. Pressure would have been brought to bear for action to be taken to liberate them. But the weak government of President Goodluck Jonathan is unable to exert that influence. The West therefore needs, in our view, to take steps to support those in Nigeria who recognise the value of education and how it can help the country develop and achieve greater stability.
In our view, this should take two forms. First, in practical terms countries like Britain should offer aid, such as search aircraft, which can be deployed to help in the hunt for the girls. In the longer term, Western governments need to show how improved education for women can be an important spur to growth in the developing world. We agree that the gains are potentially enormous – Nigeria is now confirmed as the African continent’s largest economy with a thriving entrepreneurial culture that is set to grow further. With greater education of young girls will come lower levels of teenage and unwanted pregnancies, a greater likelihood of girls and young women getting paid jobs and, in turn, greater prospects of the next generation being educated too.
Rebooting Old Favourites
We note – and deplore – the recent tendency to criticise television and film producers who return to past successes. If new ideas aren’t up to scratch, what’s wrong with new versions of The Saint, an old ITV favourite of the 1960s or of Dad’s Army – not to mention BBC ONE’s Generation Game? They can give pleasure to new generations of viewers. The Royal Shakespeare Company has shown how it can be done with its well-turned re-workings of the eponymous playwright’s works down the decades. Film and television shows are really no different. However, we deprecate ironic takes on old favourites. Ambitious commissioning editors who think these cool are misguided. We think these reversions not only disrespectful to the original idea but mocking. By all means reboot, but do it tastefully.