First published on Lib Dem Voice
Do we need more scientists and engineers in government? The question is a tough one. Of course it’s easy to find examples of scientific illiteracy in parliamentary debate, and it can be frustrating for followers of politics to see policies adopted seemingly without any framework to test their efficacy in a structured and unbiased way (though there has been some progress in that area). On the other hand, MPs without STEM backgrounds can be great advocates for science and engineering, and are perfectly capable of debating technical issues with great insight and sensitivity – Conservative MP Jane Ellison, for example, handled the recent debate on mitochondrial donation admirably.
While it is simplistic (not to mention democratically questionable!) to aim for a target quota of MPs with a STEM background, we should also recognise the significant contribution that politicians with scientific and technical experience and insight can bring to politics: whether it is the ability to engage with the details of what is possible or appropriate in the regulation and surveillance of digital communications or simply direct experience in the knowledge economy that we are all hoping to build.
Last year we picked 6 strategic seats where we judged that Lib Dem candidates had made the strongest case on their ability to stand up for science and engineering. To those of you who have already donated to the campaign – thank you! If you would like to support it, please head this way.
But there are plenty more candidates with a background or interest in science, engineering and evidence-based policymaking. To showcase this, the Team Science campaign is also building a directory of STEM Champions to capture the full breadth of expertise among our 2015 candidates.
Many of our PPCs have direct experience of some of our most pressing challenges. Lucy Care in Derby and Jackie Porter in Winchester both pursued successful careers in engineering and manufacturing when, even today, only 8% of professionals in the sector are women. Mark Mann in Oxford works on translating new technologies into industrial application – a vital capability in a knowledge economy that the UK still struggles with.
Several of our candidates have recently returned to university, either for further studies, such as Sarah Smith (Dover and Deal, currently pursuing a PhD in cognitive psychology) and Stephen Worrall (High Peak, studying for a PhD in Nanoscience); or to develop new skills, such as Chris Young (Glasgow West, moving from a Law background into Chemistry with Drug Discovery).
Many candidates, such as Jane Brophy (Altrincham) and Tad Jones (Nottingham) cite a desire to see more evidence-based policy in Parliament as part of their motivation to stand for election. This motivation must be particularly strong for Michael Mullaney (Bosworth), who is the candidate best placed to depose David Tredinnick: a Conservative MP notorious for supporting the use of astrology and homeopathy to treat serious medical conditions.
Are you a Lib Dem PPC with a STEM background that we haven’t included in our directory? If so, please drop us an email at teamscience[at]aldes.org.uk with a headshot and a short bio and let us know what policy you would want to fight for, if elected. And if you’re engaging with individuals or organisations in the STEM sector as part of the 2015 campaign, please share our directory and make sure they know how many Lib Dem candidates there are hoping to represent their interests.