Party Conferences: Speaking up for science

Bryony Victoria King is an MA student and full-time science enthusiast, working in politics. As a Labour Party Conference delegate, she made a speech on the value of science.

When I decided to give a speech to the Labour Party Conference on science funding I didn’t expect much of a reaction. I anticipated that people who knew me would give polite congratulations and perhaps a few strangers interested in the topic would comment but apart from that I had resigned myself to the fact that it would probably go more or less unnoticed.

I am delighted to admit that I was wrong.

The reponse

I checked my phone as soon as I had returned to my seat in the conference hall and found a deluge of enthusiastic texts and tweets, with people thanking me for raising the subject – some even quoted me. Throughout the rest of the week strangers came up to me at conference events all saying a similar thing, “you’re the one who made the science speech? It was great. Thank you for bringing it up!”  I was gratified to hear so much support for the issue, plus my ego was rather pleased with the attention.

I had decided to speak on science funding after much long deliberation, searching for a topic that I really felt passionate about. As an elected delegate to conference I knew I had the opportunity to speak if I wished and myself and other delegates from my region were encouraged to think about what we might want to speak about.

I considered a number of things to begin with, distracted by the current ‘popular’ political issues such as housing, the NHS, education et al. However, although I am interested in these topics I couldn’t seem to summon up any great enthusiasm to produce a speech on them.

The only idea I had that I liked was on climate change, something I have a great interest in and had done research on, in the course of my work in politics, a couple of years ago with relation to stimulating the economy through investing in sustainable technology. Plus, I am pretty exasperated that climate change seems to have slipped off the headlines and political agenda in the last few years, as if the problems will go away if we just pretend they’re not happening.

Why science funding?

As I was idly daydreaming a fictional story set in a dystopian future where all the worst-case climate scenarios had come to pass I remembered some articles I had recently read calling for the government to invest more in science to boost the economy. My enthusiasm returned and I knew that this was what I had to talk about. It was just too important not to talk about.

Unfortunately, in the end I actually had to cut the sentences I had on climate change, as you only get 3 minutes, but I hope the vital points were made. Rather pleasingly, I was chosen to make my speech right at the end of the economy debate when the hall had filled up nicely with delegates and MPs in anticipation of Ed Balls speech, so I got probably one of the largest audiences for a debate speech.

As mentioned at the beginning of my speech I am not a scientist, I actually cheerfully dropped all science subjects after completing my GCSEs because I found school science extremely boring, not associating it then with the many fascinating things I was interested in which were inherently scientific. To be honest I still feel rather cheated by my dull experiences of school science when I now appreciate how beautiful, wondrous, beguiling and essential science is. I do hope that lessons have improved since then.

Looking forward

In terms of ‘well you made the speech, so now what?’ I am going to continue to promote this issue and campaign wherever I can and hope that others involved in politics who support greater spending on science, whatever party, will do the same.

Science doesn’t get great representation in the world of politics, nor does science get adequate coverage in popular media, which would help to generate greater public support for science spending (unless it’s some completely preposterous story about how the LHC will cause us all to perish as we are sucked into a black hole of lava, which really doesn’t help the cause), therefore it is regrettably a subject quietly relegated and government spending goes elsewhere. We have to change this and make sure that science spending becomes a top priority for all political parties.

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