The new standard bearer for science and innovation is… Norman Lamb
By Matt Dolman in Liberal Democrat Voice
Congratulations to Norman Lamb, the newly-elected Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, who overcame competition from fellow Lib Dem Jo Swinson.
In seeking the role, Norman pledged to offer "sound guidance, leadership and authority" to the Committee and ensure that science and technology are "fully considered in Brexit negotiations", all while emphasising the importance of science for the UK's future prosperity.
The new role gives Norman a great opportunity to hold this Government to account on a whole range of issues covering science, technology, research and innovation.
This is especially important in today's political landscape, because Parliament's Select Committees have become increasingly powerful in the last couple of years - and they can only get stronger with a weakened Government in place.
(To see what I'm talking about, it's worth reading a recent paper by the Institute for Government that talks about how Select Committees can exert their influence during a hung-parliament).
It's also really important because Brexit has the potential to impact on lots of ongoing science and innovation, from developing nuclear fusion to conducting medical research to improving weather modelling. Not only that, but the loss of EU research funding and the potential impact of reduced freedom of movement could have massive ramifications for UK science in the coming years.
Norman has a good opportunity to hit the ground running, because the unexpected General Election last month forced all parliamentary Select Committees to close down their inquiries early. He will be well placed to comment when the Government responds to those reports published earlier in the year.
In one of the more recent examples, the Committee found that the Government's Industrial Strategy could do more to reflect Brexit opportunities. The Government didn't get a chance to respond before the election, but hopefully they will once it's recovered from its campaign losses, giving Norman the chance to have his say.
Norman will also have significant influence over which new inquiries the Committee launches. Only this week, the Lords' EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee launched an inquiry into energy security post-Brexit - Norman will get the chance to press the Government on similar issues from a position of strength.
Of course, all Lib Dems know that scientific research, innovation and skills are crucial to the future prosperity of the UK.
However, although we've got a good foundation on Innovation, Science and New Technology in our most recent manifesto, we don't quite have a dedicated science spokesperson in our current Shadow Cabinet (despite the scientific pedigree of several of our parliamentarians). That limits our ability to stand up for science over the next five years.
So it's really important that Norman leads the Science and Technology Committee in holding the Government to account, and helps to make sure that the UK remains a world-leading hub of innovation and research.
* Matt was a Constituency Organiser during the 2015 General Election. He tweets about energy and politics @MattDolman.