As the new Cabinet starts to take its seats, among them will be two new faces of interest to the #SciVote project of the Campaign for Science and Engineering. The first is the new Minister of State for Universities and Science, David “two brains” Willetts, known for being a cerebral politician (yes… I know…), with strong links to academia and a strong voice in the Conservative party for many years. He will attend Cabinet meetings, but not as a full member. The second is his boss and the full Cabinet member, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovations and Skills, Vince Cable, who tweets here, well known to the public and also a strong voice in the Liberal Democrat party. Willetts replaces Lord Drayson, who tweets here, and Cable replaces Lord Mandelson (who hasn’t seen twitter yet).
Now it would be wrong to prejudge this alliance based purely on the commitments of the individual parties during the election, themselves based on the aspirations of shadow science ministers no longer with us (Dr Evan Harris and Adam Afrayie), but that doesn’t stop anyone monitoring what’s coming out of Westminster now for some sort of indication of policy direction. The Times is presently performing in that role, though that was written before the announcement of Willetts’ new job. CaSE themselves have also written on noises coming out and commitments going in to the new coalition.
The Labour MP Tom Watson (who tweets here) has volunteered himself to ask #SciVote questions in the House of Commons, though this may be a little mischievous, given the qualifier “especially around budget time” and his previous experience with the campaign was his being on the wrong side of the libel law reform debate. No doubt the budget time comment is a grasp for ammunition given the hard time the public sector is almost certain to get during the reduction of the deficit in the Government’s books. The Financial Times reckons, in an article yesterday, that the cuts Mandelson left behind will be biased towards science departments in Universities. I can’t link to the article itself as it is for registered users only… The emergency budget, which will detail the new funding terrain, will be published within two months if present plans hold. Influence on the direction of the budget should be exerted now.
So, it is time to regroup, redraw the battle lines and begin again the forever ongoing fight for better funding, better policy and a higher priority for science.