Show Hide image

Why does the science and technology committee have no women – and a climate sceptic?

With three members left to announce, it's an all-male affair.

Earlier today, the members of the new Commons Science and Technology Committee were announced. Of the eight members revealed so far, seven are white and none are women. 

Norman Lamb, the newly elected Chair of the Commitee, later tweeted that three members were yet to be selected and that it was "imperative that we have women on the commitee". Lamb later retweeted someone sympathetic to the abuse he was receiving, saying: "In fairness to @normanlamb he has no control over the committee composition. The parties nominate their members." (That being the case, though, Lamb cannot guarantee that any of the three vacant spots will go to women.)

In addition to the lack of women currently on the commitee, there is a distinct lack of a scientific backgrounds among the members as well. Only the Labour MPs Darren Jones and Graham Stringer, a Eurosceptic, have a background in science. (Jones has a degree in human biosciences and Stringer used to be an analytical chemist.)

However, Graham Stringer is also a vocal climate change sceptic, once arguing in Parliament that "much of the Government's policy is based on the belief that climate science at present is settled, and it is not, because nobody knows the answers to those questions". Stringer was one of two MPs who voted against the conclusion made of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that there was "no reason to doubt the credibility of the science". 

He is also one of two MPs on the board of trustees of Lord Lawson's Global Warming Policy Foundation, GWPF. The foundation's tagline is "common sense on climate change". Lawson, its chair, was recently caught misrepresenting studies on climate change on the BBC and has rightly been criticised for it. Others who are a part of GWPF include Labour peer Lord Donoughue, who has compared climate change activism to "virtue signalling"

According to the Campaign for Science and Engineering, there are currently 103 members of parliament who have some form of science background. (Newly elected MP Neil O'Brien's role as "advisor on the Northern Powerhouse" counts.) Only two of them are represented in the eight-strong Commitee

The Science and Technology Commitee ought to be a strong voice in favour of evidence-based policy. That is if the Government listen to their advice: the previous Committee's recommendations to hire a Chief Scientific Advisor for Brexit went ignored.

This article was amended on 13 September 2017 to make it clear that Labour MP Darren Jones also has a science background.

PHOTO: GETTY
Show Hide image

Tackling tuition fees may not be the vote-winner the government is hoping for

In theory, Theresa May is right to try to match Labour’s policy. But could it work?

Part of the art of politics is to increase the importance of the issues you win on and to decrease or neutralise the importance of the issues your opponent wins on. That's part of why Labour will continue to major on police cuts, as a device to make the usually Labour-unfriendly territory of security more perilous for the Tories.

One of the advantages the Conservatives have is that they are in government – I know it doesn't always look like it – and so they can do a lot more to decrease the importance of Labour's issues than the Opposition can do to theirs.

So the theory of Theresa May's big speech today on higher education funding and her announcement of a government review into the future of the university system is sound. Tuition fees are an area that Labour win on, so it makes sense to find a way to neutralise the issue.

Except there are a couple of problems with May's approach. The first is that she has managed to find a way to make a simple political question incredibly difficult for herself. The Labour offer is “no tuition fees”, so the Conservatives essentially either need to match that or move on. But the one option that has been left off the table is abolition, the only policy lever that could match Labour electorally.

The second, even bigger problem is that it it turns out that tuition fees might not have been the big election-moving event that we initially thought they were. The British Electoral Survey caused an earthquake of their own by finding that the “youthquake” – the increase in turn-out among 18-24-year-olds – never happened. Younger voters were decisive, both in how they switched to Labour and in the overall increase in turnout among younger voters, but it was in that slightly older 25-35 bracket (and indeed the 35-45 one as well) that the big action occurred.

There is an astonishingly powerful belief among the Conservative grassroots, such as it is, that Jeremy Corbyn's NME interview in which the he said that existing tuition fee debt would be “dealt with” was decisive. That belief, I'm told, extends all the way up to May's press chief, Robbie Gibb. Gibb is the subject of increasing concern among Tory MPs and ministers, who regularly ask journalists what they make of Robbie, if Robbie is doing alright, before revealing that they find his preoccupations – Venezuela, Corbyn's supposed pledge to abolish tuition fee debt – troublingly marginal.

Because the third problem is that any policy action on tuition fees comes at a huge cost to the Treasury, a cost that could be spent easing the pressures on the NHS, which could neutralise a Labour strength, or the financial strains on schools, another area of Labour strength. Both of which are of far greater concern to the average thirtysomething than what anyone says or does about tuition fees.

Small wonder that Team Corbyn are in an ebullient mood as Parliament returns from recess.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.