Many senior scientists in Britain have been worrying about the impact a change of government in next year’s general election might have on their activities. After all, the Conservative party has had little to say about science – compared to other fields of policy - in the recent past. And who knows what effect a big intake of new right-wing Tory MPs might have?
Tonight, speaking at a debate staged by the Cambridge Network, Adam Afriyie, the shadow science and innovation minister, made a big effort to reassure the country’s scientists.
He promised, above all, continuity: “We mustn’t fight political battles over science. Science should be the least ideological area in government. It’s difficult enough to raise the level of public debate about science, without unseemly squabbles among politicians,” he said.-
Afriyie welcomed Labour’s establishment of the Technology Strategy Board and added: “Stability is what’s needed right now. So let me offer reassurance. I am not planning a major reworking of either the dual funding system or the apparatus of science policy.”
He was only partially reassuring on funding: “If fortunate enough to serve as science minister, I’m going to fight tooth and nail for science. But it’s reckless to make undeliverable promises. Spending constraint will apply for any incoming party.”
As Afriyie noted, “Gordon Brown has made a-song-and-a-dance over the ring-fenced science budget.” He said a Conservative government would respect the ring fence, while repeating that “I cannot promise spending increases with an economy on its knees.”
Afriye also supported the independence of scientific advice to government, in the wake of Professor Nutt’s dismissal as head of the advisory council on drug misuse: “A number of scientists have signed a Statement of Principles setting out how they think independent scientific advice should operate. I believe those principles offer a strong basis for a new framework.”
“Science has a great future with Conservatives,” he concluded.
I hope he is right, because it would be sad if scientific opinion in Britain became associated with the Labour party, in the way that American scientists have become associated with the Democrats.