So, after all of the speculation that he might be asked to make way for a Conservative up-and-comer, David Willetts has kept his post. The universities and science brief is one that the Minister appears to relish, he has secured the confidence of many in the academic world, and seems to share George Osborne’s personal commitment to UK science. Dave and George are now following in Paul Nurse’s footsteps, and heading off to China next week, where science and research are potential tools to help build links between the two countries.
But crossing the floor, there have been bigger changes afoot in Labour’s ranks.
Shabana Mahmood has been moved from her HE and Science brief, shadowing David Willetts, over to the shadow Treasury team. Her move and that of Chi Onwurah in a previous reshuffle to the Cabinet Office from the science portfolio, could be seen as welcome additions of science-friendly shadow ministers to influential ministries, with a view to embedding the value of science in to those departments.
Yet at the time of writing, it is not at all clear where the science brief itself now sits for Labour. It has been assumed that the HE and science roles will be kept together, and held by Liam Byrne, but his post has been reported as being HE, without science in the title, and by some as being ‘HE and Emerging Markets’ – and now (as of 12.11 on 9 October!) according to his Twitter profile, he is ‘Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills’. Gordon Marsden has also been shuffled out of the BIS team, and Stella Creasy shuffled in. We wait and see where science might fall.
Given the emphasis placed on science and research by both previous Labour administrations and the current Government, it would be disappointing to see a specific reference to science missing from the Labour frontbenches. Here’s hoping that it is made clear soon, so that CaSE can invite the new post holder (looking most likely to be Mr Byrne) to join Willetts and Julian Huppert to the science debate on 30 October here at the Royal Society. And that they get swotting up – our door is always open.
Update at 16.20, 9 October: Chuka Umunna’s office have now confirmed that Liam Byrne MP will be taking on the science brief, with his title having been updated to ‘Shadow Minister for Universities, Skills and Science’.