Mixing it with the politicians (Day 32)

Links day

Nerea Cuadra, Process Engineer, Tate and Lyle, meets her local MP, Jim Fitzpatrick MP in the House of commons

If you are familiar with political life in the UK, you’ll know that when the House of Commons is sitting, you are allowed access to the central lobby and can request to see your local Member of Parliament (MP).

They may not always be there, but it can be quite an effective way to lobby UK politicians and is one of the benefits of living in a democracy.

So this week, along with IChemE’s director of policy and communication, Andy Furlong, and a group of young chemical engineers – Nerea Cuadra, Rachael Hall, Sarah Button, Laura Morris, Adam Robb and Matt Ead – that’s exactly what we did.

Chemical engineer, Sarah Button, with Barry Gardiner MP.

Chemical engineer, Sarah Button, with Barry Gardiner MP.

Our lobbying formed part of a really interesting day, which included lunch in the House of Lords as part of a Parliamentary Links Day, organised by Dr Stephen Benn at the Society of Biology.

For IChemE, opportunities like this are really important because since the death of Ashok Kumar in 2010, there are no chemical engineers currently ‘sitting’ in the House of Commons.

IChemE maintains a regular link with the UK Parliament via the Ashok Kumar Fellowship, which supports the placement of a postgraduate student in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST).

POST Director, Chris Tyler, spoke at Links Day and he asserted that making policy is a difficult business. He set out the challenges in the Guardian newspaper last year.

Chris’s article contains some useful advice for engineers and scientists who want to shape government policy. It’s well worth a read.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch so all of us were armed with our ‘political asks’ and concerns, which included:

  • Urging politicians to continue to support measures that will maximise the number of women opting to study STEM subjects.
  • Requesting politicians to show their support for hands-on science in the classroom at every level and to ensure that the development of practical skills remains central to the science curriculum.
  • Encouraging politicians to take a positive stance on the benefits of migration and support the free movement of dedicated students and young chemical engineers who want to work hard and grow our research base or contribute to the success of British manufacturing.
  • Inviting politicians to make the necessary interventions to accelerate new nuclear build, capitalise on the nation’s shale gas assets, deliver a step change in the deployment of carbon capture and sequestration and maintain support for renewable energy.

As presidential days go, hosting a table at the Parliamentary Links Day with Andy, Nerea, Rachael, Sarah, Laura, Adam and Matt was an absolute delight. It was also good to hear speakers including Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and Lord Willis of Knaresborough, who sits on the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.

The opportunity too to personally influence ‘decision-makers’ and explain why chemical engineering matters at the very heart of government is something I would encourage all Member Groups, Special Interest Groups and chemical engineers to consider – wherever you are in the world.

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What are the most pressing political issues affecting chemical engineers in your country? Contact me via my blog.