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From Niche to Norm

25 Jun 2015

Naomi Weir reflects on Parliamentary Links Day and argues that backing science and engineering isn’t backing a niche special interest area, but supporting a national asset that brings enormous public benefit across the economy and society.

A new Parliament brings with it many new MPs. In considering the content of my few remarks for this Tuesday’s Parliamentary Links Day on Science and the new Parliament I took the opportunity to reflect on what it is that the new intake of MPs care about.

Why have they put themselves through the most public of job interviews?

What is it they would like to use their voice and position as an MP to achieve?

Granted, it is only a snapshot but I had a look through the maiden speeches made in recent weeks to see what came out as repeated themes. Amongst others, they included:

  • Infrastructure improvements – road and rail as well as mobile and internet
  • Wanting to create high quality jobs for their constituents, better paid jobs, support for small businesses to grow
  • Education – to address societal inequalities, to ensure young people in their constituencies are equipped with the skills needed for future jobs or to thrive in the digital economy
  • Improving quality of life for their constituents – combating noise and air pollution or improving dementia care and mental health provision

Many of the areas the new intake of MPs have stated as their top priorities, from tackling climate change or antimicrobial resistance to better train services to Birmingham and creating high quality jobs, rely on scientists or engineers or would benefit from advances in science and engineering.

So when considering the national value of science – one of the things I am keen to convey is that science isn’t a special interest concern for MPs (new or old) to add to their priority list of things they will back as Parliamentarians. Science isn’t niche. Instead through being a champion for science and engineering in Parliament you are also being a champion of a stronger economy, of high-value job creation, of environmental and health improvements, of educating young people to operate in and contribute to a high tech, knowledge based economy as well as supporting the expansion of the boundaries of knowledge, opening up whole new sectors and industries and creating ways of living for future generations. The list goes on.

It also happens to be something we are great at in the UK and something that the government has a direct impact on through R&D funding, but also through education policy, immigration policy and many other areas.

As I concluded my comments at Links Day, Stephen Metcalfe MP responded highlighting that science is one of the only areas where MPs feel they need to preface their remarks with their science credentials – or more commonly lack thereof. Would a Minister for Transport or Education or Local Government feel they need to preface any remarks with acknowledgement of their limited academic study of the areas within their ministerial briefs? Certainly they need experts within their teams and within their networks to advise and inform their decision making. It is the same for science.

I hope that the MPs who attended Links Day, including Jo Johnson and Nicola Blackwood – our new Science Minister and new Chair of the S&T Select Committee, were encouraged by the standing-room-only event that there are many experts within in the science and engineering community who are willing and well equipped to support them in their task of backing science in this new term.  And CaSE will certainly be working hard, along with many others, to develop new champions for science and engineering within Parliament who recognise that backing science and engineering isn’t backing a niche special interest area, but supporting a national asset that brings enormous public benefit across the economy and society.

Photo credit: Royal Society of Biology

(L-R) Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Royal Society President, Jo Johnson MP, Universities and Science Minister, and Naomi Weir, CaSE Acting Director