27 February 2013

Next stop politics? Brian Cox outlines his science-led manifesto

Russell Scott and Brian Cox

Having made light work of balancing the role of academic, television presenter and science writer, Professor Brian Cox last night revealed how he’d approach an even loftier career move, outlining a science-led manifesto that he would implement were he to find himself in 10 Downing Street.

Cox doesn’t appear to be thinking too seriously about entering politics just yet, but having conquered most forms of mainstream media at the relatively young age of 44, it’s hard to see him returning to relative obscurity as a full-time academic any time soon.

Speaking at a lecture organised by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) in London, where he was awarded the Institution’s John Collier Medal in recognition of services to science and engineering communication, Cox adopted a radical tone and demanded that science and engineering should be at the heart of government policy.

Cox then played fantasy politics and delivered the speech he wanted to hear from the next Prime Minister on the eve of the 2015 general election: “We choose to make Britain the best place in the world to do science and engineering. Before this decade is out we will ensure that every citizen has a right to a university level education irrespective of age or socio-economic background, whether that’s in the sciences, engineering or arts.

“We will double our spending on university and tertiary education. Why? Because I believe that higher education is valuable to both the individual and the society.

“We will double the spending on research, and introduce measures to make it attractive for industry to do the same, exceeding the investment in our competitor nations. Why? Because reaching for worlds beyond our grasp is an essential driver for progress and necessary sustenance for human spirit

“If we delay this innate and powerful urge, the borders of our intellectual domain will shrink with our ambition. We are the most rare and valuable part of the universe and our long term survival depends solely upon our understanding of nature.

“We will join with our colleagues in Europe, America and China to redirect defence spending into the exploration of space to protect our planet from threats, mine asteroids for resources and expand the frontiers of our civilisation for the first time since Columbus,”

“And by the way that’s a fully costed policy. It will increase public spending by about £20bn by the end of the decade which will be covered by growth in the economy,” said Cox.

Andy Furlong, Director of Policy at IChemE says that the idea of Cox standing for political office is not as far-fetched as it might seem: “The UK would certainly benefit from having more MPs with a background in science and engineering and evidence-based policy making, needs stronger input from scientists and engineers at every point in the process. The reality is that Brian could probably contest any seat in the country right now and stand a good chance of winning. And if he were affiliated with a particular political party, he might through the ranks very quickly.

“I don’t see him walking away from his current commitments in the short-term because he’s clearly a passionate science communicator and loves his current work in teaching and research, but last night he demonstrated a strong understanding of politics too, and his ability to communicate clearly and connect with the public would serve him well if he ever wanted to make the switch,” adds Furlong.

The John Collier medal is awarded to scientists and engineers in recognition of efforts to improve public understanding of science and technology. Collier is a former IChemE president and the prize was first awarded in 1997. Past recipients include Gaia theorist James Lovelock and former BP chief Lord Browne of Madingley.

The event was sponsored by EDF Energy whose Chief Executive Vincent de Rivaz also praised the contribution that Cox has made to UK science and engineering: “I can think of no more worthy winner. His work in schools and on TV, his passion and enthusiasm is helping to encourage more and more young people to chose science subjects in schools and colleges.

“Science, technology, engineering and maths are vital skills for the UK as we seek to rebalance the economy. Businesses like EDF Energy are able to offer great jobs and careers for the next generation as we meet the challenge of providing secure, low carbon energy for the future through some of the most exciting engineering projects in the world,” added de Rivaz.

Watch tce reporter Helen Tunnicliffe's interview with Brian Cox

Listen to Brian Cox's John Collier lecture

My IChemE

IChemE is a registered charity in England & Wales (214379), and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 039661).