Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Spot the star

One of the less profound things to do at Parliament is to spot people you recognise from the telly. Some of the other scientists got to PMQs today, and reported that it was the least effective procedure they'd seen all week. I haven't yet seen either house sit, so my score is considerably lower but I have seen
  • Austin Mitchell
  • Margaret Beckett
  • Glenda Jackson
  • Lord Wilson

Apparently Jack Straw and Alistair Darling were sitting next to where we queued for lunch yesterday but I completely missed them. And Jamie Oliver was in Portcullis House for a committee meeting but I didn't see him either. I then lost all my accumulated Eye-Spy points by seeing Lembit Opik. You only get points if you can go a whole week in parliament without seeing him.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

You probably think...

"You probably think Parliament is here to make laws, but it actually does far more than that."

Practically every talk we've had has started with some variation on this theme and it's getting a little wearing. But we've been very well looked after and we've had some interesting discussions. One thing that keeps coming up is that the research councils are concentrating more and more of their funding on specified subject areas (in contradiction of the Haldane Principle)and large collaborative grants. No one from the scientist's side that I've spoken to here is in favour of this, and so far no one else has defended the practice.

Parliament - first impressions

It's now the morning of my second day in parliament, and I'm waiting for our first meeting of the day to start. Yesterday we had a tour of the palace of Westminster, had a talk from the Royal Society (where I politely asked if there was anything that could be done to persuade Prince Charles to resign his fellowship, since he's pursuing an avowedly anti-science agenda), met our MPs for luch and a photo-op, had a talk from the Hansard Society and then sat in on a meeting of the Innovation, Universities and Skills committee.

A few random impressions:
  • There's a lot of walking, from Norman Shaw to the Lords is a long way. I'd love to meet Anne Begg, the only MP who uses a wheelchair to find out how she manages.
  • The statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the house really helped the Irish member of our party feel welcome.
  • There's a cafeteria in Portcullis house, where a large coffee is 45p, as is a large doughnut. I don't think you'd find such value in any University in the land.
  • There's a complete set of West Wing DVDs in Mark's office, seemingly from Japan. And of course the US election is supposed to be based on Series 7. I hope the fact that the post-Sorkin writers originally intended Santos to lose and only changed the story arc after John Spencer (Leo McGarry) died doesn't spoil things.
  • US conservatives have sometimes said, dismissively, that wishy-washy liberals just want a fictional Matt Santos figure who wouldn't stand a chance in real life. At the moment I'd settle for an Arnie Vinnick if I had to, but I see no sign of such.
  • Any University member who's been appointed to a managerial position or in any way increased his authority should be prevented, by force if necessary, from watching the West Wing for six months.
  • When I was a child the concept of sandwiches with the crusts cut off was shorthand for impossible genteelity, which only the queen would subscribe to and no one would dream of encountering in real life. That's what we had for lunch yeterday.
  • At yesterday's Innovation, Universities and Skills committee meeting on Plastic Electronics someone, possibly Ian Gibson, asked Lord Drayson and Carter what could be done about the poor image of Engineering in this country. My father always said that this was because the only time most people heard the word was when trains were delayed due to 'Engineering work'.