This page First ultra high-energy collisions. Scientists at CERN said that they had collided protons at record power, mimicking conditions close to the Big Bang opposite CERN in Geneva; Andrew Miller
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As chair of the Commons science and technology committee, Andrew Miller is a fierce defender of science spending against a raft of government cuts. Caroline Crampton finds out how he is keeping the issue alive under the watchful eye of the Treasury iffrin
26 | July 2011 | Total Politics
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Hospital or rocket? Primary school or particle accelerator? If you were the one deciding how to spend the money, metaphorical gun to your head, what would you choose?
The choice facing politicians at the moment isn’t quite as stark as that, although some would have you believe it isn’t that far off. However George Osborne’s chancellorship may be assessed in the future, the unprecedented focus and scrutiny it has brought to government spending is difficult to deny. All the attention is on the future of frontline services – the NHS, the police, children’s services. The rockets and particle accelerators never really stood a chance.
Speaking up against this austerity consensus is a small group of MPs. They believe that the choices about how public money is spent aren’t as binary as the media and, at times, the government would have us believe.
“This is not a new problem. It’s something that’s always the case,” says Andrew Miller, chairman of the Commons science and technology committee, and a firm believer that this short-term focus might not produce the best long-term outcomes for the country.
“Take something like Britain’s involvement in the space programme. I tell you I’m going to build a rocket, and it’s going to cost £100m. Would you rather I spent the £100m on a hospital? You know what answer most MPs and members of the public would give. But my view is very simply that this isn’t an either/or argument.”
It isn’t a case of spending being a zero sum game, Miller argues. “You will not have world-class medicine if you don’t invest in world-class science, and that means being bold enough to invest in areas of blue sky research that don’t have obvious tangible commercial or social benefits immediately.
“Even in the really esoteric areas of particle physics one regularly comes across spinoffs that have proved to be enormously important. This ranges from the world of astronomy, where we have things we all take for granted like the charge couple devices that are in every digital camera, or from the world of particle physics – some of the scanning devices in our hospitals emerged from research programmes that had nothing to do with medicine.
“The whole nature of research is that those things come downstream. But we’ve got to be bold enough to make those investments otherwise things people are getting exercised about now, like the next generation of medicine, say, will be compromised.”
Sounds grave, doesn’t it? It isn’t all bad, though. At least this is an area that is relatively free of partisan manoeuvring and political brinkmanship. The attitude of his committee members is “collegiate” at all times, Miller says. And somewhat surprisingly for a select committee chairman, a breed that can sometimes identified by their predilection for seizing headlines with vehement criticisms of ministers, he assures me that this is not just an attitude that prevails among his colleagues, or even just among backbenchers.
“This is something on which there has been cross-party co-operation. There has been an increasing awareness on the part of government of the importance of science in policy-making. One of the interesting things that I’ve come across frequently is the apolitical way in which some of the key people have operated – going back to William Waldegrave, David Sainsbury, Paul Drayson or now David Willetts, you’ll hear them all praise each other because they have, over time, followed common threads in the attempt to try and make government policy using good science advice.”
Despite this glut of goodwill, it would seem that their desire to put science at the heart of policy-making isn’t shared in the same way by all government departments. The development of the network of chief scientific advisers across Whitehall is something Miller points to as evidence of the government’s commitment to improve its scientific focus. With the exception of the Treasury, that is.
The department that cracks the whip over all the others has only just appointed a chief scientific adviser to its staff, after months of refusing to offer a reason why they had failed to follow suit.
“They wouldn’t give us a logical explanation,” Miller says, with frustration in his voice. “I’ve never heard a logical explanation from the previous administration or the current one. Frankly, it didn’t make sense. To have somebody in the key budget control department that understands some of the strategic issues around, for example, the big science budgets. This involves hedging currencies in terms of next year’s subscriptions to CERN (The European Organisation for Nuclear Research) and big astronomy projects.
“That was one of the weaknesses in the current structure – that the bean-counters in the Treasury are not themselves as well informed as occurs lower down in delivery departments – and why this is good news that the anomaly is now corrected.”
Having been in Parliament since 1992, and having served in both opposition and government, Miller is well placed to observe the changing relationship his fellow MPs have with science-based policy.
“Yes, there is an element in the House that doesn’t see that connection, but it’s not as big as it used to be, which is encouraging,” he says.
“The number of parliamentary colleagues who have any background in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathemat
IntervIew ics) has remained the same over the last 10 years at around 10 per cent. Some people say that’s a very small number, but I have teased my previous American opposite number by saying that at least it’s 10 per cent more than he’s got in Congress…”
In the US, you’d be hard-pressed to find an elected politician who isn’t an estate agent, a lawyer or from the business world, Miller says. By comparison, our 10 per cent in Parliament starts to look a lot more impressive. We shouldn’t get too complacent about it though.
“It is a weakness of a number of western democracies that there tends to be in most countries a particular cadre of the community who end up in the elected positions, but that doesn’t necessarily stop people. I mean, some members of my committee have no background in science but they make a very powerful contribution to the committee’s work. To do a good job in this area you don’t necessarily have to have spent the whole of your career in a white coat somewhere.”
I tell you I’m going to build a rocket, and it’s going to cost £100m. Would you rather I spent the £100m on a hospital?
It’s actually possible to translate this dearth of practical science experience into a positive rather than a negative, Miller argues, because it prevents the committee’s work getting mired in technical jargon. He even goes as far as to call it a “tremendous asset”. “It’s hugely important that when we do our work that we do it in language that is accessible and not locked in scientific jargon.” This doesn’t change the fact that science spending is in constant danger of being squeezed off the legislative agenda both by the lack of enthusiasm exhibited by the majority of MPs and what Miller calls the “broader economic pressures” of the moment. His concern, reflected across the scientific community, is that the UK will slip backwards against our global competition if we don’t find a solution for this.
But, again, it’s not quite as straight-forward as a choice between spending enough or not. What would victory even look like?
Miller is circumspect, saying: “I don’t think you can ever say you’ve spent enough on science.”
George Osborne and the Treasury might disagree with him on that one. ■
Total Politics | July 2011 | 27
Amber Elliott talks to the life peer and first Muslim woman to serve in the cabinet about the Conservative Party’s position after the local elections
Her mother wanted her to dress like Margaret Thatcher when she first entered politics, but Baroness Warsi has never felt the need to imitate anyone. She has her own way of doing things, and they are having some success. Heavy losses were expected at the local elections in May. Instead, the Conservative Party gained four councils and 85 new councillors.
Sayeeda Warsi, a politician who has never won a seat personally, was partly responsible for the results. She has only been in Parliament for six years, and co-chairman of the party for just one.
So, how does she feel about the local elections – excited, a li le bit smug? “I don’t think smug’s the right word,” she says.
Gloating, then? “No. Gloating isn’t the word.” She dismisses it without a smile.
42 | July 2011 | Total Politics
We se le on “satisfied”. Apparently, David Cameron has banned enthusiastic post-match hype. There’ll be no clink of champagne glasses. Only cautious, sombre election analysis. In public, at least.
In an interview just three months ago, Baroness Warsi predicted poor returns. “We will do badly in the local elections, and Labour should do very well because of where we are in the electoral cycle,” she said.
She laughs when I quote this back at her. “I wish I had the benefit of hindsight because I wouldn’t have said that,” she says. “I probably look a li le bit stupid, having said we’d lose 1,000 seats and then going on to win 80-odd.
We’re si ing in the Lord Chancellor’s offices in the House of Lords, in a room bedecked with Lord Irvine’s fuzzy Pugin wallpaper that famously cost the taxpayer £59,000.
Warsi looks a li le fuzzy herself. She’s recovering from her national tour during the lead-up to the elections. “We literally have travelled the length and breadth of the country,” she says. “The last 30 days was something like 30 seats, 127 council seats, 1,000-odd councillors, 3,500 miles. It was constant. And, to be fair, we’ve been campaigning since about July of last year.”
Her party, she claims, can boast the largest peacetime campaign force ever. “When we restructured, we made sure that we cut our backroom. Frontline campaign services were protected.”
Warsi is a fast talker. She gallops through sentences, pausing only when her BlackBerry buzzes. There are five phones on our table. At one point, both she and her assistant are tapping at them with such concentration that I wonder if the interview has been abruptly terminated and I should leave. “Give me a second,” she says, cu ing oﬀ a question to read something on the small screen.
In an eﬀort to keep their a ention, I canter through questions at a Warsi-esque pace. What was it like to follow Eric Pickles as party chairman? “Big shoes to fill,” Warsi chuckles. “Eric was such a largerthan-life figure – not just because he was largerthan-life, but because it’s a huge job to fit into.”
Warsi’s climb to the top of Mount Tory has been impressively swi . She was plucked from delegate obscurity by Oliver Letwin at the 2003 Conservative Party conference, and encouraged to stand at the 2005 general election as the Conservative candidate in Dewsbury. She was defeated, defying the national Conservative swing. That might have been the end of her political career had it not been for Michael Howard, who she credits as her “political mentor”.
“There’s no doubt that Oliver may have discovered me, but I would probably have just fought 2005 and then gone back to doing whatever I did. Michael Howard made it very clear that he wanted me to remain and get involved.”
Despite the poor and somewhat controversial result in Dewsbury, she was chosen as vice-chairman of the party later that year. Her appointment to the House of Lords in 2007 made her the upper chambers’ youngest member. She also became shadow minister for community cohesion at the same time.
Upon entering government in 2010, Warsi was selected as co-chairman of the Conservative Party (alongside Andrew Feldman) and minister without por olio in the Cabinet Oﬃce, making her the first Muslim woman ever to serve as a minister.
“They keep coming up with these firsts, don’t they?” she says, rolling her eyes as though it’s dreadful.
Now as co-chairman of a party in government, she wants to “steer a steady ship”. “First of all, we have absolutely embedded this principle of ‘keeping the family together’,” she says. “It’s something Andrew and I came up with 12 months ago. It sounds twee, but it means that [with] the diﬀerent strands of the Conservative Party – the professional party, the voluntary party and the parliamentary party – we set a vision that brings all those diﬀerent strands together.”
Feldman is the ‘money man’. One person who worked closely with both chairmen says that Feldman deals with the donors because he’s closer to David Cameron, and they feel he has the inside track. Those inside the party claim that internal financing has been a top priority in this first year. Warsi agrees that the party now “lives within its means”. “We are not spending anything that we’re not raising. We’re not taking out further loans. The party is in a good, stable, financial position.”
She has her own take on her relationship with Feldman: “When I first started this job, I said to Andrew, ‘Just imagine you’re at home.’ This is a complete joke, actually – his wife is an extremely successful woman – but I said: ‘You bring in the money and I spend it. And I think it will work really well.’”
of our lot [Labour] out there to talk about extremism on Cable Street.” In the end, Warsi delivered the speech at Toynbee Hall under the guise of ‘Conservative No to AV’, rather than the separate ‘No to AV’ campaign, and without Keith Vaz.
The speech had a backlash. Chris Huhne accused Warsi of “gu er politics”, and went so far as to compare her to Goebbels.
She dismisses the name-calling as “a side show”. “For a politician called an ‘a ack dog’, I didn’t feel the need to a ack,” she shrugs. “I didn’t need to respond to it. To this day, I haven’t responded to it.”
Previously Feldman was chief executive of the party. “The role that he adopts now is built upon that. It’s more the organisation of the party, making sure the party’s well financed, making sure its structures are laid out right,” Warsi says. “I’m the political face of the party. So, more campaigning out in the regions, the media, the political message.” Insiders say that associations like Warsi because she “talks pure Tory”. “Even crusty, old associations that were sceptical about her appointment are won over by her in person,” one says.
Feldman and Warsi have created new events called ‘Meet the Chairman’. “The initiative is a take on what David [Cameron] does now with PM Direct,” she explains. “It was important for the party to have access to us in an open way – to be able to walk in and ask us a question on anything. It’s a completely closed meeting. Twelve months on, having done dozens of these, it has never been leaked. I do most of them, but we do lots together; it’s a joint act.
But, surely, there were disagreements with the Lib Dems as a result of AV? “Nobody would have assumed that we’d have gone into this – even when the referendum was agreed as part of the coalition agreement – nobody would have said that this was going to create no disagreement or tension.” A double-negative (and a long-winded way of saying ‘Yes’).
What of the speculation that David Cameron became involved in the ‘No to AV’ campaign only a er George Osborne and others convinced him he must mount a strong opposition? “There was no question whatsoever that David wouldn’t get involved,” she replies. A second double-negative.
And what about the agreement that the PM would stand on the sidelines to give the Lib Dems a fighting chance at voting reform? “I don’t know, and I’d never comment on a discussion between David and Nick Clegg. Certainly, I was never present at one. But from a chairman’s perspective there was never any doubt in my mind that David wouldn’t play a part.”
“You have to try and balance the diﬀerent aspects of your personality to fit the job,” she continues. “Instinctively I’m a campaigner, so I’d feel more at home with the fight in the run-up to the election. That’s probably why I was so involved and excited by the AV referendum and the local elections; they were an opportunity to get out there to campaign and fight.”
One colleague describes this style of politics as “a ack dog”. “She’ll snarl and growl at the opposition to defend her home. But ultimately, she isn’t the master.” Some recent press releases put out in her name include: “Even Mandelson doesn’t know what Ed Miliband stands for”, “Stella Creasy’s comments are a cheap and irresponsible way to smear the big society” and “Labour created the jilted generation”. There is nothing subtle about them.
The AV referendum was a good example of Warsi’s tendency to jump into the political debate and sharpen her teeth on the bones of those who disagree with her. In a speech on the dangers of extremism, Warsi said: “[Yes to AV] may be sincere, and they may oppose extremism, but by backing AV, they’re backing a system that rewards extremism and gives oxygen to extremist groups… It means that bigots will be given more power in our politics.”
Now that she’s finished her election-period tour, she is turning a ention to internal party reforms. The party is driving hard on membership. “We’ve set an interesting target – five per cent of the Conservative vote on Conservative-held seats, and three per cent in Conservative non-held seats should be the level of membership. It’s quite ambitious, but we should be ambitious.” She later mentions that some associations are already above these five and three per cent targets. “A lot of them in Scotland are above the three per cent target. I think eight per cent of them are in Scotland.”
“The other thing I’m thinking about se ing up is looking at the very serious concern of electoral fraud,” she says. “It’s something MPs and councillors have raised with me. I’ve had members of the Lib Dems raise it with me as well. MPs who fought their seats related to me real concerns about the level of electoral fraud that may have happened in their con
The speech was originally going to be delivered by Warsi on Cable Street alongside Labour’s Keith Vaz. One Labour ‘No to AV’ camp member says the idea of talking about the BNP in an area with such a history was “madness”. “We wouldn’t send one
Iwould probably have just fought 2005and then gone back to doing whatever I did.
Michael Howardmade it very clear that hewantedmetoremain
Total Politics | July 2011 | 43
IAIN DAle IN CONVERSATION...
He is the undoubted pretty boy of the labour frontbench. I’ve often wondered just how much substance there is behind those eyelashes, and exactly where he stands on some of the great issues of the day. On the face of it, he’s down-the-line ‘New labour’, but there’s a certain amount of ’old labour’ perspective there, too. I have also never met a politician who quotes his constituency so often in order to reinforce his point. Read on... Photos by Alister Thorpe
ID: How did you first get into politics? AB: I joined the party when I was 15, in 1985. It was the whole climate of what was happening at the time. I grew up in the north west. The miners’ strike was quite a big event in my life, and I remember coming home every night and seeing Derek Hatton holding forth on the TV. It was an intoxicating time. See, that would have made me Conservative… It made me very politically aware. My parents weren’t members then, but I decided to join the party. I stood as the successful Labour candidate for St Aelred's Catholic High School in the mock election in 1987.
Why did you find Margaret Thatcher so toxic? My parents did, and they passed that on. My mum, who'd always been a strong Catholic, remembered her going into Downing Street and quoting St Francis of Assisi. Mum kept coming back to it. “How could she have talked about, ‘Where there is discord, I will bring harmony…’, and do all the things she was doing?” [Thatcher] was a very divisive figure, particularly in the north west. 'Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher' was around up there, and the folklore behind it built up quickly. So you got into politics at an early age. You joined the local Labour Party, presumably?
46 | July 2011 | Total Politics
Total Politics | July 2011 | 47
Regulars Letters 4 Diary 6 The Independent on Sunday’s John Rentoul recalls his Blair-filled month Polling 8 Abortion remains the thorniest of issues for pollsters Blogger writes 9 The idea 10 Douglas Murray wants a new treason law Data 11 Debate 12 Does technology enhance debate in the Commons? MPs James Gray and Kevin Brennan disagree Point of order 13 Sharon Hodgson MP on the cuts affecting families with young kids Events 14 Ministerial profile 16 Gerald Howarth MP MP of the month 18 Natascha Engel MP wins for her role as chair of the backbench business committee
Total Campaigns Dave-speak 20 Simon Lancaster on how to write a speech in the style of the prime minister George Pascoe-Watson on... 21 George Osborne’s talents as a political operator Campaign doctor 22 The US trend coming here 24 Paul Richards on turning an opponent’s strength into a weakness
FeaturesSciencevscuts26 Science and technology committee chairman Andrew Miller on making the Treasury recognise the importance of science The Commons Stars 29 Despatcher hands out the End of Year MP Awards and explains the burgeoning cult of Jacob Rees-Mogg MP What are the Tory right and the Labour left? 32 What’s the reality behind the stereotypes? Ben Duckworth looks at the Tory right and Amber Elliott examines the Labour left Show us your skills 40 BIS minister John Hayes explains why his vocational strategy should help the economy Sayeeda Warsi 42 The Conservative co-chairman and campaigner on her party’s election performance, spending money and of the future of the Tory party Cover Story Andy Burnham 46 Iain Dale speaks to the shadow education secretary about whether free schools are all bad, his good looks and Michael Gove’s elitist instincts
Total History Freedom behind bars 60 Stephen Brasher remembers one of the strangest elections in history Where are they now? 62 The history of one object 63 The Great Reform Act Memorabilia 63 Lord Alton of Liverpool They were also MPs 64 Alfred Mond
Total Life Summer reading guide 66 The best political reads to get stuck into over the recess Book review 68 Keith Simpson MP on part two of Macmillan’s diaries Brought to book 69 Brandon Lewis MP My old book 69 Debbie Abrahams MP Film review 70 Countdown to Zero Researchers’ stories 71 Hinterland 72 Caroline Dinenage MP on netball Top 10 musical politicians 73 Lunch with... 74 Crossbench peer Lola Young special section
Getting to the heart of it 52 The British Heart Foundation and Total Politics examine how the UK can remain at the forefront of medical research. We interview Lib Dem peer Lord Willis on how the coalition’s strategy for health can be amended to increase support for medical research
Total Politics | July 2011 | 3