General Election 2017: UKIP on Science


Simon Allen

Paul Nuttall, captain of the sinking ship UKIP, were the final party to launch their manifesto in all its purple, patriotic glory.

I complained about their science policies in 2015. Is it any better this time round?

(Manifesto here)

Brexit and Budget:

For the party that proudly claims to have brought about Brexit, they’ve not given much thought to what happens next. As argued ad-nauseum in this series (see: here and here), the EU has been a welcome boost to British science. So how will UKIP safeguard this?

They won’t. UKIP doesn’t mention how science will be impacted by the biggest political event in recent history.

UKIP haven’t said what kind of UK-EU science agreement they’d aim for, how they’ll negotiate access to the EU’s Horizon-2020 (if at all), if they’d underwrite current research commitments, what’ll happen to the 892 UK researchers leading Horizon-2020 projects, what regulations they’d remove to free up British science, how R&D will be funded, if they’d plug any spending shortfall EU funding currently fills, or if they’d increase R&D funds which lag behind most nations in the OECD.

And that’s not even mentioning how they’ll get a bloc of 27 nations to sign up to their non-existent proposals.

UKIP science spokesperson Dr Julia Reed, famous for her weird speech about Time Lords and trains that goes nowhere, is who we turn to for info. She’s optimistic about British science after Brexit.

If they stick by the their higher education plans, I wouldn’t say it’s well placed. EU nationals won’t be offered loans to study here, and Erasmus would end. To compensate, the party would abolish tuition fees for British science and engineering undergrads, provided they stayed in the UK for 5 years and worked in that sector. This is difficult for scientists, a naturally mobile lot who often have to move around for their jobs. Like geoscientists (see section 5.6).

In a weird turn of events, the party would guarantee EU nationals the right to stay (Liberals, contain your shock).

Their “one in, one out” migration policy has come under fire from the scientific community, seeing how most scientists view immigration as a good thing. Pro-Brexit group Scientists for Britain point out nations with strict border controls still recruit a lot of researchers from overseas.

Scientists generally follow the money, but the study they cite says geography still matters.

Scientists are far more likely to move between neighbouring countries, or countries that speak the same language. Australia sees most foreign researchers from the English speaking US and UK.

Brazil sees more researchers from Argentina and Chile than France or Germany. Germany sees more scientists from the Netherlands and Sweden than China or Japan. Japan sees most of its foreign researchers come from China or South Korea. The UK sees most of its overseas researchers come from Germany and Italy. Scientists we now want to make life harder for by attaching visa requirements to entry.

Skilled labour – like researchers – fall under the Tier 2 visa, and skilled labour shortages often change quickly and unpredictably. The Institute for Public Policy and Research argue point based systems can be restrictive for skilled workers and students, and the process should be simplified. Not tightened.

Climate Change:

Nothing new here. Humans are still driving modern day climate change. UKIP continue to deny this. Here’s their science spokesperson denying climate change after the Paris Agreement. Here’s UKIP calling on Donald Trump to pull out of the agreement faster than he promised.

Their open letter to Mr Trump says the findings by the Environmental Protection Agency regarding carbon dioxide emissions have “no basis in science”. They also say the Climate Change Act has no basis in science. Just like their manifesto.


Unphased by evidence, UKIP energy policy hasn’t changed. Roger Helmer is still UKIP energy spokesperson. Their views are the same as 2015. They’re still as wrong.

The party would repeal the Climate Change Act (ugggh), boost fracking (uuuuuuggggh!), and scrap renewable subsidies and feed-in tariffs (UUUUUUUUGGGGHHHH!)

Because Brexit, invoking Article 50 also means leaving EURATOM. For a pro-nuclear party, UKIP have said nothing about the potential cluster-calhoun the nuclear industry is facing from leaving EURATOM.

The Environment:

UKIP are confused about the environment. They want a return to incandescent bulbs, despite how grossly inefficient they are (but then a lot of problems stop being problems when you deny climate change).

The party, like the Greens, would look at introducing a plastic bottle deposit scheme to fight marine litter. It won’t work as well as they hope.

Their science spokesperson acknowledges the damage biofuel production has on rainforests. But they voted against a motion put forth by the EU parliament in 2016 that would have made palm oil more sustainable. UKIP argue the issue requires international collaboration between countries. Nations working together in some sort of “union”, if you will.

Public Health:

UKIP continue their trend of acknowledging threats to public health, and not doing anything about it. For example, their science spokesperson acknowledges mercury in the environment is harmful to human health. They agree with proposed EU regulation to better monitor and control the amount of mercury released into the environment. They failed to support the legislation.

They acknowledge the dangers of air pollution, but opposed EU directives to cut it. Rather than reducing the number of polluting diesel cars, they’d reverse measures to disincentivise diesel.

Keep in mind, a Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health report says exposure to outdoor air pollution shortens life by about three days per person. Air pollution causes respiratory issues in young children. It stunts lung development in young adults. The government estimates the health effects of air pollution cost the UK £16 billion a year. The World Health Organisation puts the figure at 3.7% of GDP.

And, despite this cost to our health and our nation, UKIP would make the problem worse.

The party would reduce alcohol consumption by repealing the 2003 Licensing Act. Post-legislative scrutiny says it might work, but points out most booze is bought in supermarkets and off-licences these days. On obesity and smoking, the party is silent.

In a break with Nigel Farage, UKIP wouldn’t #420 blaze it. Cannabis would stay criminalised. UKIP focus on cannabis and its mental health impacts. Here, the party might be onto something. The most comprehensive review to date by the US National Academies of Science (the full 400-page report is here) looking at 24,000 studies and some 2.2 million patients, found cannabis use is linked to developing social anxiety, schizophrenia, psychosis and (to a lesser degree) depression.

Of course, the review found cannabis has many benefits, and isn’t linked to illnesses like cancer or asthma. Whether drug decriminalisation is in the national interest is a different question. Here are two good pieces on the topic (here and here)

UKIP justify their burka ban by saying (among other things) they cause vitamin D deficiencies. There is some evidence wearing a burka reduces the amount of vitamin D you synthesise (here and here). But the same can be said for any clothes. Half of the UK’s white population is vitamin D deficient, with the highest numbers being in the north and Scotland.

If they’re that concerned with vitamin D deficiency, UKIP might as well ban Scottish people.


UKIP would shift farming subsidies to smaller farms, and subsidise farmers who don’t put antibiotics in their feed. The party agrees farming should ensure animal health and welfare. You’ll never guess how they voted when the issue came up in the EU Parliament.

One change that may come for UK farming after leaving may be GM crops. UKIP disagree with the EU moratorium on GM crops, and argue that each nation should be able to decide for themselves if they grow them. They still want GM food labelling, which is still a controversial idea.

So do they deserve my vote?


General Election 2017: The Green Party on Science

Green-party-logo-2015Simon Allen

The Greens (bless their fairtrade cotton socks) have published a super succinct 26 page manifesto. But is it good enough to win your vote on June 8th?

(Manifesto here. Environment manifesto here. Long term policy here)

Brexit and Budget:

Green Brexit policy is identical to Lib Dem Brexit policy: a referendum on the terms of the deal (with the option to remain), guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK (a good thing), remaining in the single market and defending freedom of movement (debatably a good thing, but the option that produces the least uncertainty regarding Horizon-2020 and FP-9 access).

However their barebones manifesto forgets to mention science funding. This means we have to turn to their long term policy page for info. Here, the commitment to raise public R&D spending to 1% of GDP hasn’t changed. If the Greens are sticking with that number, it puts them miles behind Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Conservatives on R&D commitments.

Climate Change:

Considering they’re the Green party, you’d expect their manifesto to say more about climate change than a single bullet point:

Active ongoing cooperation with businesses and other countries to limit global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees and aiming for 1.5 degrees.

There isn’t much detail in how they’d do this. The party talk about creating a Green Investment and Innovation Centre to invest in low carbon tech. They also mention investing in vehicle electrification and charging infrastructures, but don’t say how much they’d invest. They’d aim to insulate 9 million homes, but don’t outline measures to encourage homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient like Labour do.

Perhaps details are light because they’re waiting for the selection of research projects looking at ways to keep the world below 1.5oC to be published, or the IPCC’s 2018 report on how governments can achieve 1.5oC warming.

Or maybe they’re pessimistic*. At current emission rates, we don’t have long before we overshoot the 1.5oC target.


To fight climate change, the Greens would vow to keep fossil fuels in the ground. The party would scrap fossil fuel subsidies, and reinstate onshore wind/solar subsidies. Fracking, coal and nuclear power would be phased out, and replaced with renewables.

The party continues to ignore the role nuclear can play in fighting climate change

The Environment:

The Greens would safeguard EU environmental legislation, and car companies who cheated on their partners emissions tests would be hit with a one off fine.

An article in the Economist reveals the UK has one of the worst wild animal preservation levels in Europe. To fight this, a Green government would enhance Green Belt, National Park, SSSI and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty protections. The party would create a new environmental regulator and court to enforce these rules.

Green Belt land often suffers from pollution and farming runoff. A lot of Green Belt land is of poor environmental quality according to a 2007 report by the governments landscape advisor, Natural England. A more recent report shows only 13% of Green Belt land holds important conservation habitats, and that much of it is fragmented (that’s bad). Nevertheless, bird and butterfly species diversity is higher in Green Belt land, and forms part of healthy ecosystems.

Stronger protections for such land in an effort to protect biodiversity are therefore welcome. The party joins everyone else (besides UKIP) in committing to blue belts for marine ecosystems.

The Greens have ambitions to produce networks of interlinking local ecological spaces on both land and sea. Creating such habitat corridors has mixed evidence. A 1998 review of habitat corridors found the data lacking. More recent studies have found they’re an effective way to boost biodiversity (see: here and here).

The party also takes aim at plastic bottle waste, and wants to introduce a bottle deposit scheme. In theory, this system could work better than environmental taxes. In reality, a review of deposit schemes found the policy was limited in reducing marine waste.

Public Health:

Like the Lib Dems, the Greens commit to equity of green space access, and the health benefits (here and here) that come with green space for all. Hooray!

Turning to obesity and air pollution, The Kings Fund found health costs from transport amount to £40 billion a year, and lack of exercise costs the NHS £1.1 billion a year. To address this, the Greens will commit £2bn to making cycling and walking more viable for more people.

A Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health report says exposure to outdoor air pollution shortens life by about three days per person, causes respiratory issues in young children, stunts lung development in teenagers, and costs the country £16 billion a year (or 3.7% of GDP if you’re the World Health Organisation) due to the health effects.

To fight air pollution, the Greens (like the Lib Dems) would expand and strengthen clean air zones across towns and cities. Since diesel engines were found the be the most polluting by Which?, the party would aim to phase out diesel via a tax on new diesel cars, and a diesel car scrappage scheme.

Their long term policy still opposes animal testing, which will annoy Britain’s medical researchers.


Green MEP Molly Scott produced a post-Brexit farming plan that, among other things, would raise VAT on meat in an effort to curb consumption (because climate change) and force farmers to label foods that used artificial fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides or are GM (T_T). The party would also boost organic farming, saying it’s better for human health (no), wildlife (kind of/not always) and the environment (3 guesses what I’m gonna say here/here)

The party wants to transplant the EU’s precautionary principle into UK law. In theory, this is a good idea. In practice, it leaves them room to abuse the principle in the same way the EU does (see: here and here)

They remain opposed to GM crops, despite evidence that they’re safe for humans and biodiversity.

So do they deserve my vote?

The party’s ambitious wanting to keep the planet within 1.5oC of warming, but it’d be nice if they had a more detailed plan. They deserve credit for a solid public health plan. They also deserve praise for having a more detailed plan for the environment and biodiversity than other parties – even if it’s flawed.

On Brexit, the party deserves the same praise the Lib Dems got.

On nuclear energy, animal testing, and farming the party continues to put ideology ahead of evidence.


* This remark was facetious.

General Election 2017: The Conservatives on Science


Simon Allen

When the election was called a few weeks ago, Theresa May held a commanding lead over her opponents. But now Labour is closing the gap, can Theresa May woo any scientifically minded voters to back her party on June 8th?

(Manifesto here)

Brexit and Budget:

Brexit sends a snowball of uncertainty barreling down the hill of “fuck you” and crashing into the cabin of composure that is British science*, so how will the Tories aim to keep the same EU benefits and reduce uncertainty?

The manifesto claims that freedom of movement will end, and that the country will decide on a case-by-case basis which EU projects to contribute to.

It’s hard to imagine Horizon-2020 or FP-9 being snubbed by any government. But ending free movement may prompt the EU to restrict Horizon-2020 and FP-9 access, and reduce the leading role the UK currently plays in many projects. It will likely make UK science less competitive, too.

The Tories don’t guarantee EU citizens an automatic right to stay, making them the only party not to offer such rights. Even UKIP offer EU nationals the right to stay. UKIP!

When the amendment came up in Parliament, only Ken Clarke and Tania Mathias voted in favour. ~16% of EU academics haven’t lived in the UK long enough to gain permanent residency. A lot don’t earn enough to earn skilled labour visas. If the rights of these citizens aren’t guaranteed, there’s potential for a brain drain from the UK.

Many scientists are critical of their immigration targets. And counting students in said targets. And expecting students to leave the country at the end of their course unless they meet “higher requirements” allowing them to stay.

Funding wise, chancellor Philip Hammond said the Treasury will underwrite Horizon 2020 projects the UK is currently bidding on or committed to. This includes projects that’ll finish after we’ve left. The chancellor also treated scientists with a £2bn windfall. Over the next 10 years, the Tories pledge to raise R&D spending to the OECD average of 2.4% of GDP. This would still leave us with lower R&D spending than places like the US, Germany, Belgium and Israel.

Party faithful argue 2.4% is more achievable than the 3% Labour pledged, or the 3.4% from the Lib Dems. Opponents argue both Labour and the Lib Dems have costed their pledges. The Tories haven’t.

Climate Change:

Decarbonisation targets laid out by the 2008 Climate Change Act have (so far) been stuck to. Before the election, the Conservatives said they’d adopt the Fifth Carbon Budget which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 57% from 1990 levels. The act only goes as far as an 80% reduction on emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. The IPCC say we need to decarbonise faster than that. Nevertheless, the party has committed to tackling climate change.

The party pledges to upgrade all energy poor homes to at least a C efficiency rating by 2030, make companies more energy efficient, and roll out smart meters for all by 2020. A House of Commons report recommends keeping EU efficiency guidelines and mirroring them. The “Great Repeal Bill” will enshrine these regulations in UK law.

Arguably the big climate loser is Europe. The Tories deserve some credit for securing stronger EU climate deals during the coalition years. For example, the wording behind targets to cut emissions by “at least 40% by 2030” is important, since many scientists (like a Vice-Chair at the IPCC) argue EU climate goals need to go further. It was David Cameron pushed for the “at least” wording in the agreement.

Poland tried to block the 40% emissions target the UK proposed. They only signed up after winning concessions to subsidise coal. Now we’re leaving, it’s easier for members to derail climate legislation.

Looking beyond Britain, if this report telling diplomats to “scale down” climate change in favour of trade deals is anything to go by, don’t expect climate to feature prominently in Tory diplomacy.


The manifesto states energy policy will be based on producing “reliable and affordable energy”, rather how it’s generated. The Tories won’t reverse the onshore wind subsidy ban, so we’ll miss out on cheap, clean wind energy according to the  Energy Transitions Commission. They do, however, want to expand UK offshore wind capacity.

Tory energy policy focuses on expanding natural gas via fracking, provided it meets “rigorous environmental protections”. To that end, they’d establish a new shale regulator with the same job as the Health and Safety Executive, and Environmental Agency. Environmental protections are likely to focus on groundwater contamination, monitoring seismic activity, and mining waste.

Worries about groundwater contamination are overblown. Evidence submitted to the Environmental Audit Committee by Professor Mike Kendall, a seismologist at the University of Bristol, says shale deposits are too deep to threaten groundwater supplies. More concerning is the impact burning shale gas will have on the climate. A committee report brands fracking inconsistent with UK climate goals.

Despite everyone in the nuclear industry saying “Don’t pull out of EURATOM”, the Tories haven’t done the industry any favours by pulling out of EURATOM. Their manifesto doesn’t address how they’ll safeguard the UK’s nuclear industry from the impending legal cluster-calhoon.

The Environment:

The Tories plan to keep EU environmental legislation after Brexit. They want to plant a million trees; about the same amount as Labour. They’d tackle litter by forcing councils to remove roadside rubbish, aim to raise recycling rates, and commission a 25 year environment plan. The party joins Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens in creating “blue belt” zones.

The party would encourage farmers to plant hedgerows to fight soil erosion, and give food/shelter to the 130 species considered a biodiversity priority that depend on hedgerows.

Public Health:

Under a Tory government, employers would need to provide appropriate mental health training, and one million members of the public would get basic mental health education. Teachers would be given mental health training, and 10,000 mental health professionals would be recruited.

The party is vague on tackling obesity. They claim leaving the EU will give us more flexibility over food labelling, but they don’t say what they’d do with their newfound freedom. They don’t say what label laws they’d introduce, or how else they’d tackle obesity. Keep in mind, the King’s Fund state obesity costs the NHS £4.2 billion a year, and they don’t have a plan to scrutinise.

The government faced legal pushback about keeping their air pollution plans under wraps until after the election. A Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health report says exposure to outdoor air pollution shortens our lives by about three days per person; causes respiratory issues in young children; stunts lung development in teenagers; and costs the country £16 billion a year due to ill health (or 3.7% of GDP using World Health Organisation figures)

The High Court deems this a sufficient threat to public health, and forced the government to publish its air pollution plan. So they did, and forgot to mention air pollution in their manifesto.

ClientEarth, the lawyers who first sued the government, say the plans aren’t good enough. If the Tories win, they’ll likely take the government back to court. For the third time.


The party doesn’t have a statement on GM crops, but it’s likely the current government position (case-by-case rollout with public support) will remain the policy. Brexit gives the UK more control over farming rules, so there is potential for a rollout of the technology after we leave. Scottish Conservatives are vocal in their support for GMOs.

So do they deserve my vote?

An issue the manifesto has is detail. The Tories don’t cover how their newfound label flexibility will fight obesity, or if they have new plans to tackle air pollution.

Policies where the party give more details reveal they’re less ambitious than other main parties. Funding commitments are lower, climate policy is less ambitious, they offer no safeguards to the nuclear industry by pulling out of EURATOM (they don’t even mention the body) and the party is still committed to fracking.

On Europe, EU academics face uncertainty about their rights, and their migration targets have been panned by the scientific community at large.  

General Election 2017: The Liberal Democrats on Science

Lib-dem-party-logo-2015Simon Allen

With their membership surging and poll numbers tanking, can noted milk enthusiast Tim Farron help the #LibDemFightBack with his pitch to scientifically minded voters?

(Manifesto here)

Brexit and Budget:

If the stars align and the Liberal Democrats win a majority, they’ll offer “a vote on the terms of the deal” at the end of the negotiations between:

  1. A non-Brexit Brexit, where we slide into the European Economic Area, or
  2. No Brexit. We’d stay in.

A lot of Lib Dem science goals depend on, at a minimum, staying in the single market.

Their “Save Our Scientists” campaign wants the same cross border co-operation and equal access to funding we have now, and pushing for single market membership whilst championing free movement is a good way to get it.

Under a non-Brexit Brexit outcome, the UK would operate like Norway in Horizon-2020. British universities, academics and companies would participate on equal footing under Protocol 31 of the EEA agreement.

Norway has no representation in the EU Commission or Parliament, so a single market deal would leave the UK with less say over EU research goals. But the party is offering the clearest vision of what a post Brexit UK-EU relationship would look like. It’d look broadly the same.

Scientists are a mobile bunch, and the Lib Dems want to make Brexit Britain friendlier to scientists both within and beyond the EU’s borders. They’d guarantee EU citizens the right to stay, keep Erasmus, exclude students from migration targets, simplify the visa process for skilled workers (which the Institute for Public Policy and Research say is restrictive), and reinstate post-study work visas for science graduates.

In terms of funding, they’d protect the science budget – including Philip Hammond’s £2bn windfall – and make sure it rises with inflation. They’d also underwrite all Horizon-2020 projects. Long term, the Lib Dems aim to double R&D spending from 1.7% of GDP to 3.4%. This is more generous than Labour’s 3%, or the Conservative’s 2.4%, although how “long term” long term is is left to our imaginations.

Climate Change:

In government, Lib Dem Climate Secretary Ed Davey made the UK something of an EU climate champion. Britain pushed strongly for carbon trading reform to encourage decarbonisation (by restricting carbon credits and advocating a price floor); campaigned for halving EU emissions by 2030; and put diplomatic pressure on the EU to secure climate deals globally. International pressure for climate action would be bolstered by a Lib Dem government, according to their manifesto.

If the Lib Dems are successful in keeping Britain in the single market, we’ll be bound by climate rules like the EU Emissions Trading System, Fuel Quality Directive, and Renewable Energy Directive.

At home, the Lib Dems would pass a “Zero Carbon Britain Act” to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2040, and to zero by 2050. This is in step with IPCC recommendations.


The Lib Dems would say no to fracking, because it’s inconsistent with climate goals. Their manifesto pledges to have 60% of electricity come from renewables by 2030. Again, less ambitious than what #Milibae proposed. The party would invest in energy storage, smart grids, hydrogen technologies, and reinstate government subsidies for solar and onshore wind.

The party accept nuclear power’s role in fighting climate change, and pledge to keep the UK in EURATOM (a super important thing to do).

The Environment:

The Lib Dems would keep EU environmental regulations. The party proposes a “Zero-Waste Act” to raise recycling rates to 70% in England, and bring food waste collection to 90% of homes by 2022.

The Blue Marine Foundation will be happy to hear they’d establish “blue belts” for marine ecosystems. They’d also plant a tree for every UK citizen over the next ten years. This could either mean 64.6 million trees (the current UK population) or, if they mean each newborn, a less impressive 5.4 million.

Public Health:

The party manifesto talks about the impending doom posed by antibiotic resistance, and the need to implement the recommendations of the O’Neill report. (TL; DR: wash your hands, don’t use antimicrobials in agriculture, stop being trigger happy with antibiotics, and more research!)

The party pledges to extend green space access, which has extensive physical and psychological benefits (see: here and here). As transport costs public health £40 billion a year, and inactivity costs the NHS £1.1 billion each year, the party would implement the 2013 “Get Britain Cycling” report, which was praised by Guardian cycle-nut Peter Walker.

A Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health report says exposure to outdoor air pollution shortens our lives by about three days per person; causes respiratory issues in young children; stunts lung development in teenagers; and costs the country £16 billion a year, or 3.7% of GDP according to the World Health Organisation. To fight air pollution, the party would ban the sale of polluting diesel cars by 2025, and introduce a diesel scrappage scheme. They’d also extend low emission zones to major towns and cities.

On obesity, the party falters. They’d strengthen the sugar tax (meh) and force restaurants and takeaways to provide calorie, fat, sugar and salt data. As far as curbing obesity goes, the measures probably won’t work (see: here and here).

The Lib Dems want to introduce a tobacco levy (a good idea) and minimum alcohol pricing (another good idea).

There’s been a big deal surrounding the party’s desire to legalise cannabis. From a health perspective, the most comprehensive review to date by the US National Academies of Science (full report here) looked at 24,000 studies and over 2.2 million patients. It found cannabis use is linked to developing social anxiety, schizophrenia, psychosis and, to a lesser degree, depression. Cannabis use is also linked to higher uptake of tobacco smoking.

On the flip side, cannabis works for treating chronic pain, relieving chemo-induced vomiting, multiple sclerosis, and helping people with short term sleep apnea. The drug isn’t linked to illnesses like cancer or asthma; or wider societal harms like hard drug use, impaired academic achievement, worse relationships, or unemployment.

Whether drug decriminalisation, and a regulated drug market, is in the national interest is beyond the scope of this article. Here are two good pieces on the topic (here and here)

Regarding mental health, Norman Lamb has been a prominent spokesperson for years. The manifesto pledges to ringfence some of the £6bn a year increase in NHS spending to invest in mental health. They’d give equity to mental and physical illness, provide training to public service professionals to better handle mental illness, and introduce a ‘wellbeing premium’ to reward employers who measurably improve the health of their employees.

The party (reluctantly) recognise the need for animal testing by Britain’s medical community.


It’s hard to find a Lib Dem position on GM crops. The party has been against the technology in the past. Tim Farron has expressed vaguely neutral views on the issue (to his credit, he didn’t jump on the anti-GM bandwagon) and Scottish Lib Dems motioned to reverse the blanket ban on GM crops the SNP introduced.

The Lib Dems plan to save bees by banning neonicotinoids, as mounting evidence suggests the pesticide is harmful (see: here, here, here and here). They’d reduce the use of antibiotics in animal feed to fight rising antibiotic resistance, and hint at stopping the badger cull.

So do they deserve my vote?

The Lib Dem vision for British science funding, and their steadfast commitment to Europe, provide the UK science community with more immediate stability than other parties. Their pro-immigration message should be welcomed by the highly international field of British research.

Their environment policy is, on the whole, solid. As are their energy and climate policies. Unfortunately, their obesity plans leave a lot to be desired. In addition, the party’s attitude to GM crops is confusing; and something they fail to clear up.

General Election 2017: Labour on Science

Labour-party-logo-2015Simon Allan

Brexit? Trump? Do you want politics to stop, already?

Well too bad! Theresa May has called a general election. Over the next week, pH7 will look at where each party stands on science. We’ll start with Labour. How does their science policy shape up?

(Manifesto here. Leader’s science statement here)

Brexit and Budget:

Brexit is one of the defining issues of this election. Most scientists were pro-EU. So how will UK science fare now we’re leaving?

Short answer: we don’t know. pH7 gave an even handed account before the referendum, but was clear about the benefits the EU brought to UK science – both financial and collaborative. Now we’re leaving, uncertainty about the UK’s future science relationship abounds.

Labour don’t shed much light on how Brexit will hit science. Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, mentions it in passing.

Because most Labour MPs represent leave seats, and most constituents cite immigration as why*, Labour has said they’ll end freedom of movement. They also want to keep the single market and all the juicy benefits that come with it.

Is this possible? Guy Verhofstadt, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, says it isn’t. To end free movement, Britain must leave the single market. If the EU ties Horizon-2020 and FP-9 to freedom of movement, the UK ends up in the same position Switzerland did.

That’s not the end of the story, though. Keir Starmer has said Labour will prioritise the economy over immigration. Labour say they’ll reintroduce the Migrant Impact Fund, and pledge to prevent employers from recruiting foreign workers if it undercuts British ones. That’s similar to how Switzerland compromised with the EU over free movement. It’s possible (albeit pure speculation on our part) Labour would compromise in the same way.

Labour would guarantee EU nationals the right to stay. Securing the rights of EU academics in the UK who can’t apply for permanent residency, and don’t earn enough for skilled visas, will reduce uncertainty about their future. Labour want to remain part of Erasmus, make students exempt from migration targets, and continue the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions programme – which evidence says benefits research communities.

Funding wise, Labour propose raising R&D spending to 3% of GDP. This is in line with countries like Germany, nearly double current chancellor Philip Hammond’s pledge, and above the OECD’s 2.4% average.

Climate Change:

Labour would subsidise landlords and homeowners to increase home efficiency by changing stamp duty incentives; offering 0% interest loans to make your house more efficient; and reintroducing the Landlord Energy Savings Allowance.

Labour aims to strengthen green industry via a National Investment Bank (seeing as the Green one was sold off), but ignore the role private sector companies can play in boosting green industry.

Because Brexit, Labour say they’ll work closely with Europe on climate change. However, by leaving we forfeit representation in the bloc and weakens the UK’s ability to fight for tougher EU climate goals.

A Labour government would commit to 60% of energy coming from zero carbon or renewable sources by 2030, and keep EU efficiency legislation. If this sounds less ambitious than Ed Miliband’s goal to totally decarbonise energy by 2030, it’s because it is.

Labour would ban fracking, saying it’s inconsistent with UK carbon targets (they’re right). They have their eyes on expanding nuclear energy, and would aim to stay in EURATOM (super important).

The Environment:

Labour would safeguard EU environmental laws, and champion the Environmental Goods Agreement at the World Trade Organisation to reduce tariffs on pollution reducing goods.

Closer to home, Labour would introduce a Clean Air Act (3 guesses what it’ll do), blue belts for coasts to protect marine ecosystems (two thumbs up from the Blue Marine Foundation) and plant a million trees. This works out to less than the 4 million planted in 2014-15. And even then, conservationists complained planting levels were too low.

Public Health:

Labour focuses on inequality, seeing as it’s a big cause of poor health in children and adults. According to 2014 data from health think-tank The King’s Fund, rich neighbourhoods live roughly 7 years more than poor ones. In Westminster, the richest 10% live an average of 8.6 years longer than the bottom 10%.

To shrink the health gap, Labour would put £250 million to a Children’s Health Fund focused on tackling smoking and alcoholism. Labour fail to mention between 2003 and 2013 smoking and drinking rates among teens halved; however the evidence says these measures produce good returns on investment.

For mental health, Labour would boost funding for children, and guarantee counselling services in all secondary schools. This is a smart investment (£3.75 return in reduced mental health costs for every £1 spent). They’ve also committed to a shadow secretary for mental health in any Labour cabinet.

Labour’s public health plan doesn’t talk much about inactivity or bad diets, which cost the NHS £1.1 billion and £4.2 billion a year respectively. They don’t talk about how they’d address food inequality, either (poorer people have worse diets, and higher rates of dietary related illness). Like Ed Miliband’s Labour, Jez wants to see a sugar tax (meh) and new guidelines on food labels (also meh)

The King’s Fund say health costs related to transport are £40 billion a year (from air pollution, accidents, and reduced exercise). Getting people out their cars provide large returns on investment. For every person who walks to school/work, the government gets £768 back; and they get £538 back for every person who cycles. Compare this to the £15 return on every £1 spent on school smoking interventions, or £5 return per £1 spent on alcohol and drug support circles.

So do Labour say how they’ll get us walking or cycling?

No. The manifesto has a measly half-sentence about upgrading the National Cycle Network.


Labour’s GM policy, going on Jeremy Corbyn’s Scientists for Labour statement, is basically fine. Listen to the science, ask the public, and implement each crop on a case-by-case basis.

Labour will ban neonicotinoids to save bees – in line with growing evidence the pesticide is harmful (see: here, here, here and here). But more needs to be done to save bee populations. They’d also stop the badger cull (seeing as the last round didn’t stop bovine TB)

So do they deserve my vote?

Their climate and energy policies are less ambitious than Ed Miliband’s. However – with plans to make homes more energy efficient and a fracking ban – it’s arguably more focused. Those in the nuclear industry will be happy to hear about committing to EURATOM.

Labour are right to talk about ill health and inequality, but fail to put forward a plan to tackle dietary inequality. They also ignore the potential benefits of making walking and cycling viable for more people.

On Brexit, guaranteeing EU citizens right to stay should ease some Brexit uncertainty. 3% of GDP on R&D is welcome news to those worried about losing EU money, and those who want to see more money go into science. However, ending free movement will likely deny Britain Horizon-2020 (and FP-9) access. It’ll also hurt UK science’s competitive edge.

UK Science After Brexit

Sophia Akiva

On the 23rd June 2016, the public voted for Brexit: Britain’s exit from the European Union, an event which will inevitably affect the careers of scientists both in the UK and the European Union. It is difficult to predict what the long-term outcome of Brexit will be and many of the arguments supporting Britain leaving the EU were based on speculation rather than fact.

Eight months on, what changes have already been made and what can we extrapolate to form a hypothesis for the future? There are many factors to be considered but today we focus purely on science.

Open communications and data sharing are vital to scientific progress. The European Union is currently working on a cloud network that aims to unite businesses and public services as part of a single data infrastructure. More specifically, it hopes to open the European Open Science Cloud specifically to benefit researchers and scientific professionals across all disciplines.

This enterprise requires an investment of 6.7 billion euros, and there are many who believe that these funds could be put to better use elsewhere, because cloud systems such as Dropbox and Google Drive are sufficient. Yet the greatest strides of discovery are often made through collaboration and exchange of knowledge so an investment in a shared cloud is bound to boost our progress.

The government’s attitude to the referendum result has been to seek out the best outcome for British researchers, but it is important to consider what we ourselves can offer in return. Many prominent scientists support us remaining in the EU because of our contribution to global progress. In a letter to the government signed by 13 Nobel Prize winners, they consider the EU to be the “biggest scientific powerhouse in the world,” stressing that losing EU funding would put British research in “jeopardy.”

Many of the promises made by the Leave campaign were based on the Swiss and Norwegian Models – countries that whilst not members of the EU, are still very prosperous. Switzerland has carried out a lot of ground-breaking scientific research and has become a hub for particle physics due to its hosting of CERN. Perhaps it is because of this that Switzerland is still a member of the European Horizon 2020 science and technology funding scheme?

However, the level of openness in data exchange between Switzerland and other countries in the scheme may be affected by a recent referendum in Switzerland regarding the free movement of people. There is hope that once Britain does leave, we too may still have access to research and information being shared across the European Union. Considering Theresa May’s Hard Brexit plan, though, we can’t be too sure.

The Prime Minister has said that we can achieve great things, and has promised that a further £2 billion is to be invested in scientific research every year until 2020. The funding aims to strengthen the UK’s position in leading fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. It is anticipated that by supporting research and development in Britain, we will be able to attract more innovators and investors in technology, providing a steady long term solution to scientific funding and securing Britain’s status as a powerhouse of its own.

Let us hope that the only market not affected by us leaving the EU is the one of information exchange.