By Anna Perman, Communities Manager at the British Science Association



 A new Parliament is just like the start of a new term. Just as it takes a little while to meet all your new classmates, and for the stationary cupboard monitor to be appointed, politicians take a while at the start of new Parliament to decide the front bench roles and appoint the chairs of the various committees. They’ve now completed the first few months of term, and so for the science community, it’s time to meet a new team of MPs for us to court or criticise. Or in reality, a bit of both.

For the science community, our new head boy is the Science Minister, Jo Johnson MP, and our first ever head girl is the chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Nicola Blackwood MP. Neither of them have a science background, but Blackwood fought a close-run contest for her position against several MPs with science backgrounds.

We think anyone, whether they are a scientist or not, can and should get involved in science, so we don’t really mind whether our two science contact points in the House of Commons are scientists or not. What they did before they were MPs is less important than the values and competence they display.

So what are we after, and how do we know if they have these qualities?

We want them to support good science, involve the UK public in science, and bring its benefits to everyone in the UK. To do this, they have to appreciate its economic and cultural value, and be able to work with and understand when science and scientists are a benefit to society. They also have to be shrewd and powerful enough as politicians to make a difference. You can definitely have all these qualities without being a scientist yourself.

Nicola Blackwood in particular said at the Society of Biology’s Parliamentary Links day that as a musicologist, she had often felt that science ‘wasn’t for her’ and she wanted to show other non-scientists that they can be involved in science too. She spoke about the importance of involving non-scientists in decision making, and about how interdisciplinary work is the way to make the most of science – she brought up the example of gaming, which combines technological and artistic expertise to form an industry that brings the UK lots of money and enriches UK culture.

While I wouldn’t want to paint Blackwood as representative of everyone in the UK (I’m not sure many families discuss Galton over dinner, as she admitted in her talk) it’s really refreshing to hear the voice of someone from the arts getting stuck into the nitty gritty of the role science plays in the UK. I hope she can deliver on her ambitions for the Committee, because it sounds like her aims and the British Science Association’s are aligned in this area.

And Jo Johnson? It’s far too early to tell. He hasn’t said much about science and engineering prior to his appointment, but there have been Science Ministers in the past who have taken to the science brief brilliantly without a science background, like David Willetts. Unlike his predecessors, Johnson won’t have a seat in the cabinet and this might make it tougher for him to argue for science in the next spending review. And with major decisions like the EU referendum on the cards, which will have a big impact on science, it looks like he’ll have to get his head around his new brief pretty sharpish.