Monday, 9 March 2009

Josh goes to Parliament

This week I strode off to the houses of parliament to attend the grandly named 'voice of the future, 2009'. This was essentially a bundle of Chemists and a smattering of Engineers and Biologists firing Question time-style questions at some of the people in and around government.

To my disappointment, it turns out that a third of the MPs are now housed in Portcullis house (referring to the portcullis on the house of commons logo) which is not the beatiful gothic structure tagged onto the side of Big Ben I had hoped for. A child-like excitement had filled me at the thought of getting in there. Emerging from Westminster tube station into the drizzle though, I wandered over to a police officer outside the commons and asked if he could 'point this portcullis place out to me'. He did so, towards a grey, dark building. I was a little disappointed. Admittedly, the place is extremely swish once you get inside, and indeed, is reputedly the most expensive office building in the world today. I especially loved the life-size picture of David Cameron I spotted hanging in one of the balconies.

Portcullis house - the one on the left that looks like a prison.
After 45 minutes of queuing I was scanned and frisked. I then entered the fray, heading to the Attlee suite.

The morning was taken up by a pleasing display of confidence from Lord Paul Drayson, a self-made bio-tech guru and current Science minister. Drayson spoke passionately of our need to 'play to our strengths during this time of economic difficulty' and 'get specific' on our plans do that this year. He also suggested our natural advantages in terms of tidal energy generation (we have a lot of coatline) could be coupled with our engineering experience in building off-shore rigs to fuel world-leading research into this type of tidal energy generation. I guess this is one way he wants us to 'get specific'. It does leave one wondering though, if one happens to work in an industry which the UK does not lead, will Drayson consider you a priority?

I also managed to glean an quick chat with Stephen Williams, MP for Bristol West and coincidentally shadow (Lib. Dem., if you want to know) minister for Universities, Innovation and Skills.I asked his opinion on the REF as a replacement for the RAE as a method of deciding on how much government funding an institution receives. Afficiandos of will know some of my thoughts on this matter from my previous post on the subject of peer review. Stephen agreed the new proposals 'do seem to give poeple the chance to fiddle [the statistics]' and on the whole didn't seem too impressed with the scheme. In truth Stephen spent much of our 'interview' trying to work out who I actually was, at one stage plucking out a copy of my previous weeks email from his portfolio and studying it with brow furrowed, as if my explanation that I was a PhD Chemist who was interested in politics didn't quite convince him. Well fair enough I suppose.

You can find out more about the REF, if you're so inclined, here:

JH and Stephen Williams, MP for Bristol West

Lord Drayson, Science minister, speaks of his commitment to our scientific strengths

A post doctoral researcher grills the pannel

Shadow Science minister Adam Afriyie is an advocate of a 'scientific approach to policy making' - that is weighing up all the evidence before drawing conlusions in line with our current understanding. He has recently introduced a 'science induction' for all new MPs. Good work, Adam.

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