Boris Johnson might have started back-pedalling furiously. He might have tried to dismiss it as an off-the-cuff comment. And the spin doctor might have preferred it to have remained private. Even so, the Prime Minister was surely right when he told MPs last night that ‘greed’ and ‘capitalism’ gave us the Covid-19 vaccine. And rather than backing away from the remarks, the PM should be doubling down on them. He was spot on. Free enterprise and the multinational corporation are getting us out of this mess, and we need to talk about that a lot more than we do.
It was typical Boris. At a meeting of Tory backbenchers he launched into a robust defence of the market. ‘The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed my friends,’ he said. It wasn’t quite Gordon Gekko, but the message was clear enough. The sanctimonious left immediately pounced. Labour MP Angela Eagle tweeted ‘Altruism not greed will get us through this’ while her colleague Barry Sheerman described it as an ‘obnoxious comment’. To the opposition, it may have seemed like a gaffe they could attack.
But hold on. Johnson was onto something important. In truth, the roll-out of vaccines has been a triumph for free enterprise and the multinational corporation. True, there has been some help from the state. But three of the four vaccines licensed in the developed world have been created by private enterprise – BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson jabs – while the fourth, our own Oxford jab, came out of a university and was commercialised by one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world.
The pioneering MRNA technology used by BioNTech and Moderna was funded by Wall Street through years of hopeless losses, yet it has finally come good.