The afternoon of Tuesday 12 March saw the Prime Minister return to the Commons with her Brexit Deal and face a grilling from parliamentarians, but earlier in the day, away from the main arena in one of Parliament’s Committee Rooms, a cross-examination of MPs, Ministers and advisors by early career scientists took place. Organised by the Royal Society for Biology (RSB), the Voice of the Future event, now in its eighth year, sees the traditional format of a Parliamentary Select Committee reversed so that Members of Parliament are answering the questions rather than asking them. Parliamentary participants included Chris Skidmore MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, and Patrick Vallance, the Government's Chief Scientific Advisor.
As a strategic partner of the RSB, the BSI was invited to send a delegation, and representing us were Calum Bain (University of Edinburgh), Emma Chambers (University College London) and Becky Newman (Francis Crick Institute). Delegates from all the participating organisations had been invited to submit questions prior to the event. Becky and Calum were picked to ask questions to members of the Science and Technology Committee and Chi Onwurah MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), respectively. Becky began by asking what can be done to encourage people with a STEM background to enter politics, and the Members on the panel agreed that the simplest solution was scientists putting themselves forward. Perhaps easier said than done, but it was encouraging to see so many hands go up when the audience was asked if anyone would consider going into politics.
Calum followed by posing a question to the Shadow BEIS Secretary, asking how the Government should cover any shortfall in the pledge to increase the UK’s total R&D expenditure to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 should Brexit discourage private funding from industry. Chi replied by saying that a Labour Government would fund additional public investment through a National Transformation Fund and a National Investment Bank. It is encouraging to know that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is eager to fund research and innovation, especially after the previous New Labour pledge in 2004 to step up investment to 2.5% withered on the vine in part due to the financial crisis, and at the very least will serve to keep the current Government on their toes.
Voice of the Future is the only event of its kind on the Westminster calendar, providing early career researchers with the opportunity to have their voices heard and question parliamentarians directly. The BSI was delighted to have participated in this event as we continue our work to ensure that the voice and concerns of the immunology community are heard at the highest levels.