What is it about the Lib Dems that appeals to physicists?

We were intrigued to be told this week that of the 32 candidates standing in the election who have a background in Physics, 12 of them are Liberal Democrats. A blog on Physicsworld.com reveals all:

In the last parliament (2010–2015), five members of the UK House of Commons held undergraduate degrees in physics: Tom Brake, Don Foster and John Hemming (Liberal Democrats), Andy Love(Labour) and Alok Sharma (Conservative). Foster and Love are retiring this year, but the other three are standing again. They face re-election battles of varying difficulty, but overall, their chances of continuing to represent the Physics Party in parliament look relatively good.

As for the 28 29 newcomers in the running, three of them – Heidi Allen, Kevin Hollinrake and Chris Philp – are Conservatives contesting seats considered “safe” for their party. A fourth, Carol Monaghan, is the Scottish National Party candidate for Glasgow North West, where the nationalists enjoy a commanding lead in the opinion polls. Hence, my informed guess is that on 8 May, the Physics Party will have increased its representation by 40%, from five seats to seven.

What about the other hopefuls? Well, one or two of them (including physics teacher Layla Moran, who is standing for the Liberal Democrats in the ultra-marginal Oxford West and Abingdon constituency) might just eke out narrow wins, but most are going to struggle.

We asked Robin Long, Liberal Democrat candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood and who works in experimental particle physics research, why he thought there was an affinity between the Liberal Democrats and Physics:

I think that when you boil down to what liberalism is, and what centrism is, we are very different from the other parties. They have an ideology that tells them how to get to the society they want (Tory – Free market creates a free society, Labour – Strong state and centralism create an equal society, Greens – Enviromentalism and Nationalisation solve all problems, UKIP – Tory + No EU) . We just have a destination in mind, with little to no preconceptions about how to get there. We believe that markets should serve the people, and never the other way round, which is what happens when you go to the economic right or left.

All of this leaves a lot of wriggle room in how to get somewhere.  My experience of conference says that this is usually done with a small amount of evidence based policy. Even when we are not using evidence-led policy, we leave plenty of room for it to be used, and our ideology does not reject its outcomes, rational thinking and common sense.  The latter requires caution, though, as Albert Einstein once warned:  “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen”

I think the ability to use evidence based policy and not be controlled by an ideology that tells you how to go about doing something appeals to Scientists, and to a certain extent the general public.

What we are really struggling to work out is why there are also a fair number of UKIPpers on that list. Could it be something to do with Chaos Theory?

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7 Comments

  • Sara Scarlett 19th Apr '15 - 2:45pm

    Maybe it’s the LibDems’ academic fetishism and/or inclination to hand out freebies to Universities?

  • David Allen 19th Apr '15 - 4:46pm

    Maybe it’s – what goes up must come down?

  • Paul In Wokingham 19th Apr '15 - 7:59pm

    Hey.. Langevin! I’ve never actually seen him before but I like his equations. Tea, anyone?

  • Helen Tedcastle 19th Apr '15 - 8:26pm

    Another article on people with science backgrounds going into politics, this time adding MPs who did science degrees…

    The current obsession with STEM continues.

    Also this, ‘ the ability to use evidence based policy and not be controlled by an ideology that tells you how to go about doing something appeals to Scientists.’

    Having done research myself, one must take this claim with a giant pinch of salt. Every researcher knows that the quality of the questions asked yield the kind of results one may find. No one can fully expunge assumptions, ethical biases from research.

    There is no such thing as neutrality but there are such things as principles and values that one brings to bear on political decision-making.

    So so about doing one on gardeners or novelists or better still how about an article on people who started out as Apprentices or Builders or Mechanics ie: people who have a non-university background applying to be MPs? Now that would be a novelty.

    Personally, I’m interested in the kind of people who want to become Liberal Democrat MPs, not their degrees and certainly I’m sceptical of those who say they are wholly neutral in their ethical/political beliefs.

  • @Sara Scarlett – I can’t see how “academic fetishism” or “freebies for universities” would appeal to Physicists any more than any other discipline.

    @Helen Tedcastle – as an economic migrant from science to IT, if there is an obsession with STEM it’s about time.

    If you want a high – growth, high – productivity economy capable of funding the kind of fairer society I’m guessing (most of) the people on this forum would like to see, then STEM is vital. For me one of the real symptoms of what is wrong with Britain is that it is the only country I know where someone can say “oh well I’m terrible at maths” with an air of superiority!?!?

    Until we tackle that you’re always going to have the problem of under educated, knuckle dragging numpties voting for UKIP in the belief that Farage will wave a magic wand and bring back well paid jobs for the unskilled. Er, sorry, no – those have gone for ever.

  • Sara Scarlett 20th Apr '15 - 12:21pm

    @ JUF: “I can’t see how “academic fetishism” or “freebies for universities” would appeal to Physicists any more than any other discipline.”

    It doesn’t. Academics of all disciplines are notorious rent-seekers. The LibDems are just more likely to capitulate to them than the other parties, imho.

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