This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – brightrecruits.com can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today

Blog

Science and the general election

DigitalHousesOfParliament.jpg
How will science fare in the next government?

By Michael Banks

There was the banging of a fist on the table and a heated moment (albeit brief) when government science budgets were debated.

Yesterday, the science ministers for the UK’s three main parties – Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat — met at Portcullis House in Westminster to attempt to put science policy on the agenda.

Science rarely enters policy debates leading up to a general election. Indeed Phil Willis, chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, who spoke before the debate, noted that some party election manifestos in the past have not even mentioned science at all.

Yet science was the only focus at the event yesterday, which was organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry and chaired by Susan Watts, science editor of the BBC programme Newsnight. It featured in the red corner, (Labour) science minister Paul Drayson, in the blue corner (Conservative) shadow science minster Adam Afriyie, and in the other corner Liberal Democrat spokesperson for science and technology Evan Harris.

“This time the parties are neck and neck [in the polls], so there is a real choice,” noted Drayson, who has been Labour science minister for the last 18 months.

There are many aspects of science policy that the three panellists seemed to agree on. All three agreed science is an important issue that should be at the heart of government, a point that was reiterated a few times by Drayson.

They also thought a long-term ring-fence of the science budget was right. This means that the treasury cannot dip into the science budget to take any money out after it has been allocated in a comprehensive spending review.

In the two hour debate, the parties also agreed to try and get a chief scientific advisor into the treasury (every other government department supposedly has one) and that they stand by the Haldane principle, in which scientists decide where research money goes rather than politicians, as well the need to get more women into science.

All very good and noble, but what are the differences in science policy for the three main parties?

Even though the three parties support the ring-fence, there are some differences in what happens for the science budget immediately after the election, which is expected to be in early May.

Drayson says that Labour will protect the ring-fence completely, while Afriyie noted that in the long term the Conservatives are committed to a “multi-year science ring-fence”, but says that the “economy has to be first fixed before we can ring fence any budget in the short term”.

So what could this mean? The Conservatives are likely to run an emergency budget if they get elected and although Afriyie didn’t prejudge the outcome, Drayson claims that the Conservatives would make “harsh, deep cuts” in this year’s science budget if they are elected. (The banging of the fist came as Afriyie asked why the government had not yet carried out a comprehensive spending review.)

Harris, meanwhile, says the Liberal Democrats would “not raid the science budget”, and would not cut the science budget this year.

The biggest difference of the night came with higher education policy. Harris said that the Liberal Democrats would scrap tuition fees amounting to £3225 a year that university undergraduates have to pay.

Afriyie says the Conservatives will repay the loans for high performing maths and science students, but Drayson was more guarded about policy saying that Labour will look at the outcome of the a review into higher education spending currently being carried out by Lord Brown. The Brown review will report after the general election.

A few differences, but it might not be such a bad thing. In the event of a hung parliament the three may well have to work together to make sure science is firmly in the government spotlight.

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

One comment to Science and the general election

  1. A few month later, there is only plans to cut uni budget and rise fees … not really good for science.
    Needless to say that students are not really ok with it.
    If you are a student, follow us in London on 10.11.10!
    “Over a hundred Oxford Brookes students will be attending the “We Will March” national demo in London next Wednesday, against the proposed rise in tuition fees and University budget cuts.”

Leave a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Guidelines

  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="http://www.google.com">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="http://iop.org/">IOP</blockquote>
IOP
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="http://www.worldwildlife.org/who/index.html">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text
WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux