The UK is heading for a general election on 8 June, signalling a flurry of activity across the political spectrum. But what can microbiologists do to be heard? Policy Officer Chris Brown outlines some simple advice.
The political world can seem like a whirlwind at the best of times, but the Prime Minister’s recently announced intention to hold a UK general election on 8th June whipped up a whole new storm overnight. What’s more, this was subsequently backed by an overwhelming majority in Parliament (522 to 13), and so the headlines of the past two weeks have been dominated by high-level posturing as the major political parties jostle for popularity.
Speeding up & grinding to a halt
But what does this mean for microbiologists in the UK? Parliament will officially dissolve on 3rd May, wrapping up the Select Committees and putting a hold on current activities, such as the open inquiry into Genomics and Genome Editing. The Technical and Further Education Bill and Higher Education and Research Bill, both of which are highly significant to the scientific community, have been in ‘ping pong’ between the two Houses of Parliament. In the race to ‘wash-up’ outstanding bills before Parliament dissolves, both of these Bills are soon to be enshrined in UK law. To get to this stage, concessions have been required from both the Government and the Opposition, in an effort to avoid these important Bills being dropped entirely. Other Bills will not be so fortunate, however.
The current UK government is now in ‘purdah’, which means that civil servants and Ministers are restricted in what they do, especially on matters of policy in which a new government may wish to take a different approach. Because of this, scientists and other experts will find that some doors have closed, albeit temporarily, and progress on big ticket items such as the Industrial Strategy enters uncertain territory.
In this flurry of activity, it can seem an impossible task for scientists to have an input. But what can you do to make your voice heard in this confusing period? As the election campaign period comes into full swing on 3rd May, the best thing to do is seek out your local candidates and get to know them! This is a great opportunity to communicate your hopes and concerns, and kick start a relationship that will undoubtedly become worthwhile as a new government is put into place.
SfAM, as a learned society and charity, operates without bias towards any political party, and so we seek to support all our members regardless of allegiance. We obviously can’t give recommendations on individual candidates or manifestos, but here are some handy tips to help you engage with your local politicians.
- If emailing a candidate, be sure to include your full name and home address so they know you are a constituent.
- Make your letter personal, highlighting your experiences and concerns. You could mention what you work on, and why it’s interesting or important.
- Mention how issues affect those other than yourself; perhaps your work colleagues or fellow researchers are constituents with similar concerns.
- Have a specific request – is your purpose to bring an issue to the candidate’s attention or to request a meeting with them, for instance.
- Be as succinct as possible and try to use clear language, avoiding technical terms.
- You might wish to invite the candidate to your workplace/institution to demonstrate what you do, and to discuss issues with a wider group of your peers
- Candidates usually have their own dedicated websites, which you can use to find out more information on their interests. This can help tailor your approach to them and could give you some insight into their views on significant issues.
The election campaign period is particularly short and frantic this time around, so don’t fear if you do not manage to receive a response or organise a meeting. Once a new Parliament has been established, you can always follow up with your elected MP, and build your relationship from there. Good luck!