Introducing ALDES

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New members have been asking about Lib Dem organisations that they can join.  You are welcome to submit similar items on behalf of other organisations.

Most politicians make positive noises about supporting science and engineering in the UK but, as far as we know, the Liberal Democrats are the only party that mentions it in their constitution. Paragraph 3 reads:

“We will promote scientific research and innovation and will harness technological change to human advantage.”

The Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists (Aldes) is the group for party members who wish to debate, learn and campaign on policy matters in this area. We were founded over 20 years ago in 1991 and have contributed to the party since in numerous ways:

We welcome members whether they have studied STEM subjects at University or college; work in the science, engineering, technology or medical sector; or simply have an interest in science, engineering or evidence-based policymaking.

Lib Dem MPs were a voice for science and engineering in the Coalition government, advocating protection for the science budget; boosting the status of engineering as a profession; reforming damaging libel laws and battling Theresa May to explore and promote more rational drugs policy.

Aldes members have also played key roles in creating party policy that strengthened our MPs’ hand in opposing Conservative plans, notably Dr Jenny Woods’ amendment in 2012 that opposed the proposals in the Snoopers Charter, helping Nick Clegg to veto the bill the following year.

Now with a Conservative majority government, UK science and engineering faces a number of challenges: from research budget cuts, to threats over Europe creating uncertainty for both academic and industrial stakeholders (not to mention a resurgent Snoopers’ Charter).

Aldes is determined to stand up in the best interests of the UK’s science and engineering community; to develop and advocate for liberal medical and technology policies and, wherever possible, to demand an evidence-based and long-term view in government. If you’d like to get involved, we’d be delighted to welcome new members. If you’re a recent party member, some great preparatory reading would be the Party’s 2012 Science Policy paperwritten by Dr Julian Huppert. You can also watch videos of the policy motion based on the paper as it was moved at conference. We look forward to hearing from you!

* Ed Long is the chair of the Association of Lib Dem Engineers and Scientists and a local member of Tower Hamlets Lib Dems

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12 Comments

  • On a point of accuracy, the recognition of scientists and engineers is not limited to Aldes. Ukip policy is to cancel the tuition fees of STEM students if they live and work in the UK for 5 years after graduation. The folly of the coalition tuition fees legislation, is that we charge students who study for an occupation that we in the UK declare an urgent need of. It’s a shame that the coalition government didn’t think it through better.

  • @Ian Sanderson
    The coalitions tuition fees have created a crazy situation, that with a little more thought could have been avoided.
    Consider this scenario :
    Leeds Hospital decide to employ two newly qualified doctors. Peter is Polish, and he graduated in Warsaw, Poland. Sarah lives in Warwick and graduated in Plymouth. Peter has *no* tuition fees to his name whilst Sarah has £50,000 tuition fees. So Sarah starts her career at a severe disadvantage to Peter.
    But the craziness gets even worse. Sarah’s parents both work and pay tax. Some of their tax went to our EU contribution. The UK is a *net contributor*. Poland is a *net recipient*. So the situation arises whereby her parents tax, went to Poland and helped to subsidise Peters tuition, whilst their own daughter, Sarah has to fund her own tuition !
    As I said, you really need to think things through better.

  • Anthony Sampson wrote an essay “Pity the poor bloody engineer”, CP Snow described the two cultures and Northcote Parkinson has written satirical books on this subject of the lack of status and influence of engineers in the UK. When the Civil Service Entrance exams were started in 1857 , they were geared to Oxbridge Arts graduates which cemented the social superiority of arts compared to the sciences and especially engineering. The result is that education is largely run by arts graduates with the exception of Imperial, when a Nobel Laureate runs Trinity Cambridge and a few technical universities such as Aston, Salford, Brunel,

    I would also suggest historically the Armed Forces trained many engineering officers who often left with the rank and captain or above who then entered industry. Historically the top 50% of Woolwich Academy(RE, RA and Signals) went to Cambridge to read for a 2 year degree in engineering. This meant there were leaders who understood engineering technology throughout the British empire but this has declined. Historically, the aristocratic right had a contempt for trade ; now this view is held by middle class socialists, especially in the public sector. Post 1945, many engineers and scientists went to work overseas because of better pay, lower taxes and less strikes and less union power. In the 1960s and 1980s, the shop steward invariably had more power than a chartered engineer.

    Even at the depth of the recent recession a cousin graduated from Southampton with a degree in Mech’ Eng and had several job offers!

    UKIP’s policy sounds very sensible. However, many comprehensives lack adequate maths and science teaching. At Winchester College , 75% of the boys take Maths a Level and public school pupils take twice as many maths and science A Levels as those at comprehensive . Only 60% of comprehensives offer Further Maths A level and many public and grammar schools now offer Cambridge Pre-U. British pupils with straight A Grades in science A Levels/Cambridge Pre-U are being offered full academic scholarships at american universities such as MIT which tends to benefit bright middle class children at grammar and public schools.

    What is happening is that many primary school pupils are two years behind those at prep school by the time they 10.
    Some prep schools enter their pupils in national competitions and many public schools enter their pupils in olympiad maths and science competitions. It is vital that comprehensive pupils obtain the same high standards as those at public and grammar schools. Historically most scientists and engineers came from grammar and few public schools and unfortunately today too many of those at comprehensives are not receiving the quality of teaching which would enable them to enter the likes of Cambridge and Imperial.

  • @ Charlie
    Your comment provides a sound analysis of what has happened to the demise of the reputation of engineers (and engineering), in the UK. The next question is *why* did it happen.? Why did science and engineering begin to whither on the vine of our education system, to the degree that it has.?
    My take on this, is that over about 30 years, we as a nation ’embraced’ (for economic reasons), the policy of off shoring our engineering, (both), heavy and light industries to the East. The educational system then, quite logically followed this trend. The inherent message to the education system was,… ‘We don’t need engineers anymore, because engineering has moved East, therefore focus on other (employment), educational needs.’
    The result of this curious but flawed, educational (message) shift, is that our best math, science and engineering graduates find better career prospects, on a city trading desk.
    Bottom line : We somehow, need to get engineers back to engineering, and away from ‘day trading’. And a good first step, would be to cancel their tuition fees if they take on an *engineering job* in the UK and stick with it for 5 years?

  • John Dunn
    Thank you. Until 1850 , the Industrial revolution was created by numerate craftsmen, there was no need for higher mathematics. The development by Germany of the Chemical Industry required higher mathematics: most chemical reactions are quickest at high temperature and pressure and many compounds are volatile: make a mistake through trial and error and there is an explosion.

    Britain did not have mass education for primary school until 1870. In France , after Napoleon there were extensive Grand Ecoles to train technical managers. Also the French state competed with the RC Church to provide primary education. By the time France started to industrialise post 1850 , there was at least one if not two generations who were literate and numerate . In Britain there illiterate and innumerate unskilled workers until the 1960s.

    Germany under Bismark had the blood and iron policy( iron of industry). Germany did not have access to an empire and cheap raw materials so it had to develop more advanced technology to produce the products needed for a military industrial complex.

    Post 1857 and Arnold of Rugby , many public schools considered employment in the armed forces, the Bar and civil service as suitable employment for gentlemen , not engineering. By 1870 , agricultural incomes due to the passing of the Corn Laws meant income for the aristocracy declined and poorer members went into The City of London, not engineering. By 1900 Eton had 29 classics master and 1 science master.

    The first engineering department was Glasgow in about 1840. Imperial College was founded in about 1850 because it was realised was already falling behind Germany in chemistry and needed highly educated scientists with an industrial bent. The problem was that engineering rarely attracted upper middle and upper class people and therefore never obtained the social status. Etom, Harrow, Winchestern and Charterhouse never produced many chartered engineers. The only science which was socially acceptable was pure research. Brown was ridiculed at Cambridge in the 1960s for wanting to enter industry and join BP. Most engineers came from grammar schools and a few minor public schools such as Malvern, Repton and Bromsgrove . Those craftsmen who made money ended up sending their grandchildren children to public school where they learnt despise trade and go up to university to read classics if they were bright or history or modern languages if less capable: rarely engineering.

    A major reason French nationalised industries performed better than the British ones posy WW2, was that they were run by engineers from the grand ecoles- civil, mining , electricity ; many who went on to the Ecole National d’Administration . In Britain we Perm’ Und’ Sec’ with degrees in arts subjects.

    Britain was very good at winning noble prizes but Japan showed this was not needed to produce a large industrial capability. Britain did produce a few top engineers creating new technologies but to form a company and an industry ,large numbers of development engineers are needed. In Germany every major town has a Fraunhofer Institute which undertakes R and D and training for local companies. In the 1960s Britain had Colleges of Advanced Technology- Aston, Bradford, Salford, Brunel, Herriot Watt, Loughborough and Chelsea but these never achieved high social status , attracting those from top grammar and public schools. Also post 1960s, the middle class public sector arts graduate socialists who dominated education had contempt for trade and technology. The new universities such as essex, kent, sussex, york , uea and of course the LSE which are predominantly left wing have little or no engineering.
    When Wilson said the words ” White heat of technology” they were only words. Britain had the opportunity to create the world’s largest aircraft industry in the 1950s and 1960s but the Comet crashes and BAOC buying Boeing , rather than British , stopped it.

    British engineers too often do not become directors because they lack accountancy and management skills. Also , too often British engineers lack the confidence , the social skills and therefore do not give th impression they belong in the corridors of power or sitting at the top table. Where people went into engineering from an upper middle or upper class background such as Dyson, Sopwith and de Havilland, it tended to be an exception. David Cameron has the confidence and persona required of a leader which is often lacking in engineers .

    B Wallis said ” Everything I have achieved has been despite of the experts , not because of them “. Since 1870, engineering and technological achievement has occurred in despite of the contempt for trade and technology by the aristocratic right and middle class arts graduate, invariably public sector employed, socialist. What Britain needs are large numbers of craftsmen educated to the old ONC level, technicians, scientists and engineers who have the confidence to run large world class companies . The only person of this calibre is Dyson : the problem is that Britain needs dozens across dozens of industries.

  • @Charlie I always enjoy reading your posts which are crammed full of relevant and interesting fact and detail. DO I take it you are a professional historian or economist? Are you a party member? Your cogent analysis, especially on the deficiencies of the education system, would be well worth promoting as policy.

  • TCO
    Thank you. Applied industrial scientist with an interest in history, especially trade and technology. Family and various family friends have had extensive experience of working overseas for generations.

    In Germany , the education system delivers what the country needs to produce an economy based upon high value manufacturing. In Britain , the education system delivers what metropolitan middle class public sector left wing arts graduates want. When people such as M Taylor run the RSA which was the Royal Society for Arts and Manufacturing and Dyson leaves the Design Museum because it does not give sufficient importance to engineering , then Britain has a problem. The problem are the metropolitan middle class public sector left wing arts graduates which dominate public discourse. Personally I would send them to construction site to undertake a years hard manual labour( digging ditches in winter ) and then they may start talking sense. Public discourse by strident left wingers is the opposite of good engineering as it is strident, loud, lacking in any self criticism , conceited and vacuous . As they say ” measure twice , cut once “. Good engineering requires a knowledge of mathematics , vast memory of facts and what has gone before, initiative , imagination, dogged determination, intellectual honesty, a willingness to undergo cross examination, resilience , an acceptance of failure and willingness to learn from it. An engineer needs faith and hope but a lack of conceit, when failure occurs one cannot deny it : one must accept and learn from it.

  • Peter Watson 29th May '15 - 2:11pm

    @TCO “@Charlie I always enjoy reading your posts which are crammed full of relevant and interesting fact and detail.”
    I think that is the first time I have agreed entirely with one of your posts! 😉

  • Charlie
    You say —
    “..In Germany , the education system delivers what the country needs to produce an economy based upon high value manufacturing. ”

    Do you have any thoughts on the contribution to the German economic miracle of workers moving to Germany from other contries (in particular from Turkey)?

    Were those Turkish workers all highly qualified engineers or scientists, or did they just happen to benefit from the German education system after they arrived, or were there perhaps other factors at play?

  • John Tilley
    Germans did skilled work: immigrants did unskilled work.

  • Charlie

    Thank you for your answer about Turkish workers in Germany. Which sort of contradicts your recent theorising about zero hours contracts.

    You said earlier, —
    “…The problem are the metropolitan middle class public sector left wing arts graduates which dominate public discourse. Personally I would send them to construction site to undertake a years hard manual labour( digging ditches in winter ) and then they may start talking sense. ”

    Would you say that your approach to compulsory hard-labour of “digging ditches in winter” would put you more in line with the politics of Pol Pot rather than any variety of Liberal?

    BTW – you will presumeably think that Inall sense because I did exactly that sort of work in my twenties and I am not an arts graduate. I was born 200 miles from the Metropolis into a working class family. So I guess I would get the Charlie seal of approval on most counts. 🙂

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