Jeremy Corbyn’s attempt to strike a contrast between his beliefs and those of his Labour leadership rival Owen Smith would have rather big implications or medical research in this country. The Labour leader told the launch of his campaign to hold on to his job that pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer shouldn’t take on medical research:
‘I hope Owen will fully agree with me that our NHS should be free at the point of use, should be run by publicly employed workers working for the NHS not for private contractors, and medical research shouldn’t be farmed out to big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and others but should be funded through the Medical Research Council.’
It would be interesting to hear how Corbyn proposes to fill the funding gap left by those pharmaceutical companies that, while being very far from perfect, do manage to produce quite a lot of drugs that save, prolong or improve lives.
But the political reason for making what seems to be a very naive comment is that it plays into the suspicion of many of his supporters that big business is always bad and doesn’t help society, whether that be by employing a lot of people, or, in the case for big pharma, responding to demand for drugs by researching and producing drugs. Big pharma is one of those dirty bogeymen that it is easy to set up as The Enemy, without really thinking through what the implications of taking out that Enemy might be.
Owen Smith at least once realised that actually, what matters to patients is what works, whether it be a drug developed by big pharma, or one entirely using the all-hallowed ‘public money’. But he will find that in this leadership election, what matters is what works with the membership, rather than what actually works in public policy terms. And that is why this is going to be such a difficult battle for the man who wants to dislodge Corbyn.