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Elect a physicist

Photograph showing the directions to a UK polling station

Cast your vote for the Physics Party. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/TylaArabas)

By Margaret Harris

It’s the issue no-one is talking about in the run-up to the UK’s general election on 7 May, but I’m convinced that a brand-new party is set to make significant inroads on the British political scene, increasing both its overall share of the vote and its number of parliamentary seats.

“What is this bold new force?” I hear you ask. “Is it the Green Party? The Scottish or Welsh nationalists? The UK Independence Party (UKIP)?” My friends, it is none of these. Nor is it the Conservatives, Labour or the Liberal Democrats (the three parties that traditionally grab the lion’s share of seats at Westminster), or any of the parties representing Northern Ireland. It is something far more novel. More interesting. And above all, more able to solve the Schrödinger equation.

I’m talking about the Physics Party.

After digging through party lists, campaign websites and news reports, I’ve come up with a list of 31 people with a physics background who are standing for election in constituencies across the UK (UPDATE: The list is now at 36). Like the physicist-politicians who have appeared in Physics World’s “Once a physicist” column (which profiles people who studied physics and then went on to do other things), they hail from all parts of the political spectrum, and their careers are equally varied. Several are physics teachers, but there are also accountants, entrepreneurs and people working in the nuclear and defence sectors – plus a couple of academics and an opera singer. But whatever their politics or background, they are all members of the physics community – so let’s take a closer look at some of them, and at their chances of getting elected.

In the last parliament (2010–2015), five members of the UK House of Commons held undergraduate degrees in physics: Tom Brake, Don Foster and John Hemming (Liberal Democrats), Andy Love (Labour) and Alok Sharma (Conservative). Foster and Love are retiring this year, but the other three are standing again. They face re-election battles of varying difficulty, but overall, their chances of continuing to represent the Physics Party in parliament look relatively good.

As for the 28 29 33 newcomers in the running, three of them – Heidi Allen, Kevin Hollinrake and Chris Philp – are Conservatives contesting seats considered “safe” for their party. A fourth, Carol Monaghan, is the Scottish National Party candidate for Glasgow North West, where the nationalists enjoy a commanding lead in the opinion polls. Hence, my informed guess is that on 8 May, the Physics Party will have increased its representation by 40%, from five seats to seven.

What about the other hopefuls? Well, one or two of them (including physics teacher Layla Moran, who is standing for the Liberal Democrats in the ultra-marginal Oxford West and Abingdon constituency) might just eke out narrow wins, but most are going to struggle. Spare a thought, in particular, for Labour’s Duncan Enright; a University of Oxford physics graduate, he is trying to oust the current prime minister, David Cameron, in the ultra-safe Conservative seat of Witney.

Physics World is a nonpartisan magazine, so we won’t be endorsing any real political party in the UK election (or indeed any other elections). And since we suspect that physicists do, in fact, consider things other than physics when they go to the polls, we aren’t even endorsing the hypothetical Physics Party. So, if you decide not to vote for any of the physicists listed below, that’s fine by us – and if you know of a candidate that we’ve missed, please let us know, as we’d be happy to add them to our list.

Heidi Allen (Conservatives, South Cambridgeshire). Studied astrophysics at University College London. Has worked for ExxonMobile and managed a small manufacturing business.
Simon Bailey (Liberal Democrats, Chelsea and Fulham). Studied physics at Durham University. Has worked in management consulting.
Adrian Baker (UKIP, Hertford and Stortford). Physics teacher at Bishop’s Stortford College.
Tom Brake (Liberal Democrats, Carshalton and Wallington). Studied physics at Imperial College London. Worked in IT before going into politics.
Keith Dewhurst (Conservatives, Cynon Valley). Studied pure and applied physics at the University of Salford. Has worked as an engineer at the BBC.
Gareth Dunn (UKIP, Monmouth). Has worked in geophysics and radar development. Now a physics teacher.
Duncan Enright (Labour, Witney). Studied physics at the University of Oxford, has worked in scientific publishing and at a National Health Service Trust.
Alex Feakes (Liberal Democrats, Lewisham West and Penge). Studied physics at Imperial College London. Has worked as an accountant.
Dawn Furness (Green Party, Blythe Valley). Studied nuclear physics at the University of Manchester. Now an opera singer, filmmaker and composer.
Richard Gadsden (Liberal Democrats, Blackley and Broughton). Studied physics at Imperial College London. Works in IT.
Peter Hague (Green Party, Leicester West). PhD student in computational astrophysics at the University of Leicester. Previously worked as a web developer.
John Hemming (Liberal Democrats, Birmingham Yardley). Studied physics at the University of Oxford. Worked in computer programming before going into politics.
Kevin Hollinrake (Conservatives, Thirsk and Malton). Studied physics at Sheffield Hallam University. Co-founded an estate agency.
Richard Howarth (Green Party, Beverley and Holderness). Studied physics at UMIST. Has worked as a biodiesel engineer.
Ian Kealey (UKIP, North Somerset). Studied physics at the University of Bristol. Has worked as a nuclear physicist and as a mathematics teacher, now self-employed.
Robin Long (Liberal Democrat, Lancaster and Fleetwood). Earned a PhD in particle physics at Lancaster University, and currently works as a research associate in the experimental particle physics group at Lancaster.
Mark Maloney (Green Party, East Yorkshire). Studied theoretical physics at the University of York. Has worked as a software developer.
Craig Martin (Liberal Democrats, Durham City). Studied physics at the University of York. Physics teacher.
Carol Monaghan (SNP, Glasgow North West). Studied laser physics and optoelectronics at the University of Strathclyde. Physics teacher.
Layla Moran (Liberal Democrats, Oxford West and Abingdon). Studied physics at Imperial College London. Physics teacher.
Jackie Pearcey (Liberal Democrats, Ribble Valley). Earned a PhD in nuclear physics at the University of Manchester. Works in IT.
Chris Philp (Conservatives, Croydon South). Studied physics at the University of Oxford. Serial entrepreneur and founder of the Next Big Thing charity.
John Poynton (UKIP, Ealing Southall). Studied physics at the University of Edinburgh. Has worked as an accountant.
Yasin Rehman (UKIP, Luton South). Earned a PhD in condensed-matter physics at the University of Oxford. Has worked as a consultant in education and business development.
David Rendel (Liberal Democrats, Somerton and Frome). Studied physics at the University of Oxford, worked in finance at Shell Oil. Previously an MP for Newbury between 1993 and 2005.
Tom Rippeth (Liberal Democrats, Delyn). Professor of ocean physics at Bangor University.
Simon Rix (Liberal Democrats, Truro and Falmouth). Studied physics and astronomy at University College London. Works as a business adviser in energy policy.
Bruce Roberts (Liberal Democrats, Clwyd South). Has degrees in physics and philosophy. Works as an accountant.
Dean Russell (Conservatives, Luton North). Studied physics and materials science at De Montfort University. Works in digital marketing.
Gurcharan Singh (Conservatives, Slough). Studied physics, chemistry and mathematics at Meerut University in India. Has worked as a shop owner and in social services.
Alok Sharma (Conservatives, Reading West). Studied applied physics and electronics at the University of Salford. Worked as an accountant before going into politics.
Lee Upcraft (UKIP, Wantage). Chartered physicist, works in the defence industry.
Freddy Vachha (UKIP, Chingford and Woodford Green). Earned degrees in physics and mathematics, has worked as a physics teacher and accountant.
Stephen Whalley (UKIP, South Suffolk). Studied physics at the University of Essex. Works in IT and business consultancy.
Jenny Woods (Liberal Democrats, Reading East). Earned a PhD in astrophysics at the University of Oxford. Currently working in science policy at the University of Bath.
Mark Wright (Liberal Democrats, Bristol South). Earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a PhD in astrophysics from Bristol University. Works as a software engineer.

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  1. Trackback: Physics Viewpoint | Elect a physicist

  2. Trackback: What is it about the Lib Dems that appeals to physicists?

  3. Richard Gadsden

    I studied Physics at Imperial College, London

    Blackley & Broughton, Lib Dem

  4. Jackie Pearcey

    BSc Physics Bristol University, PhD Nuclear Physics Manchester University. Now work in IT.

    Lib Dem Ribble Valley

  5. Alex Feakes

    Just to restore my physics pride a little, I should say after being an accountant, I retrained as a physics teacher!

  6. Margaret Harris

    Apologies to those left off the initial list – I have added you now.

  7. Ian Kealey

    No fewer than 8 of the above are standing for UKIP. Wow, it just goes to show how media stereo-types can be so misleading.

  8. Ian, seeing as you’re one of them, do you have any insights as to why there are so many physics graduates standing for UKIP? The Liberal Democrats have already speculated on the reasons there are so many in their party (see link above).

  9. Trackback: MPs with Science Degrees: How did Science & Technology do in the UK General Election 2015? #VoteScience #GeekManifesto | O'Really?


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