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article imageOp-Ed: Which U.K. political party has the best manifesto for science?

By Tim Sandle     Dec 1, 2019 in Politics
With the U.K. General Election edging close, what are the parties saying about science and technology? Which party has the best policies to see the U.K. thrive in a new, potentially post-EU, decade?
Science is important for each county's economy and to promote health and welfare. Economically, science is a driver of technology and technology as a driver of productivity and growth. With the U.K. General Election looming, what are the science policies of the the three main political parties: Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats?
Just as we did with the U.S. election (where the policies of Trump and Clinton were compared and contrasted) and with the May 2017 impromptu U.K. election, Digital Journal's science editor-at-large weighs in on the main parties seeking to form a government following the U.K. General Election.
Teaching and STEM education
While the manifestos of the three main parties address education and teaching, the Labour Party manifesto is the only one that direct addressees how the next government will need to address falling teacher recruitment, especially the current shortfalls in secondary school science, technology, and computing (based on analysis by the Institute of Government).
In terms of general education support, the Conservative Party is planning for a a £2 billion increase to Further Education funding. he Liberal Democrats are aiming for half of that value, pledging a £1 billion increase.
Immigration and science skills
The Conservative Party aims to seek out recruit “leaders in the field” to come to the U.K., including the best technology and science graduates and winners of top scientific prizes (as reported by The Guardian). This is a fairly reductionist view of science, but one that is common in public perception, ignoring the reality that science is done by teams of people.
The Labour Paty's approach to immigration is more liberal. While science skills are not directly addressed the party says it will seek to address skills shortages in the economy. The Liberal Democrats also promote liberalization; however, "core elements of a future immigration system are shrouded in obscurity", according to the London School of Economics.
Climate change
Conservative climate policies discuss some investment in cheap offshore wind energy (according to the BBC); however the fact that interim emissions targets have slipped away under the government are not addressed. Many scientists are warning that the climate needs even more urgent repair.
The Labour Party is advocating targeted science, research and innovation will be crucial to tackling the climate crisis, dealing with the plastic waste filling the oceans. Labour has said that climate change will form part of the school curriculum. The party is also promising to set up a £250 billion Green Transformation Fund and a new National Investment Bank.
Labour has also indicated that it will would prioritize green technologies like heat pumps, solar hot water and hydrogen, and invest in district heat networks using waste heat.
The Liberal Democrats have pledged to spend £100 billion tackling the effects of climate change and protecting the environment, although the full details of how this money might be spent have not bee revealed (according to the BBC). However, the party has copied a Green Party's policy to appoint a "carbon chancellor" to allocate this additional spending.
Science research
To promote science research, the Labour Party has set a target for 3 percent of national income to go into research and development by 2030.
Similarly, the Liberal Democrats have stated they will increase national spending on research and development to three percent of GDP. However, unlike Labour no time frame is presented for when this increase will come into effect.
The Conservative Party plans to invest less into scientific research, with the party pledging to to increase research intensity to 2.4 percent of GDP.
New technology
With new technology, the Liberal Democrats discuss establishing a “Lovelace Code of Ethics” to ensure the use of personal data and artificial intelligence is “unbiased, transparent and accurate”, recognizing the accelerated use of this technology throughout business and society.
The Conservative Party is aiming to improve the use of data, data science and evidence in the process of government and to invest in cloud computing and data.
With manufacturing and technology in general, the Labour Party has committed to establishing a state-owned generic pharmaceutical company and to use new laws to secure generic versions of patented drugs for the health service. Labour is also seeking to address the "monopolistic hold" that technology giants have on advertising revenues and direct support vital local media outlets.
Antimicrobial resistance
The issue of antimicrobial resistance is a major health concern, and it is estimated that some 700,000 people die each year due to drug-resistant diseases. This includes 230,000 people who die from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. The Labour manifesto is the only one to make reference to this pressing global health need.
Neither of the other parties address this issue of health policy.
What's missing?
According to the medical and science charity Wellcome, what political party manifestos should acknowledge when it comes to science is that science needs to begin at school and making science appealing during the formative years of childhood is very important. In terms of industrial policy, Wellcome go on to say that long-term investment is essential for meaningful research to take place: "New medicines typically take 10 years to develop, so science thrives on funding that is long-term, predictable and reliable."
The British Medical Association wants to see "ongoing access to EU research programs and research funding", noting that no party has stated that this will be maintained. The medical association sees this as vital to the U.K.’s continuing as a world leading scientific and research base. The Labour Party has pledged for the association to continue.
On balance
On balance there are many areas of science policy missing from the main party manifestos, such as is the short-termism of Brexit (with fewer references than two years ago). The strongest reference to science, in terms of coverage and detail, are with the Labour Party. This was a similar finding when the same analysis was undertaken for the May 2017 U.K. election.
Party manifestos
If you wish to read further, see:
The Labour Party manifesto: "It's Time For Real Change."
The Conservative and Unionist Party: "Our Plan"
The Liberal Democrats: "Plan for Britain's Future"
There are other parties standing in the election, in addition to the 'big three'. This article has focused on the three parties that have the chance of forming a government.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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