Two months ago now I wrote about the upcoming election in the UK, and what the two major parties (and Labour) intended to do about science engagement and communication. It was one of my usual off-the-cuff rants, full of piss and vinegar, and I promised to write the second part soon after.
But then MT4 happened and I couldn’t log in and it was just all too much for a while, and I never got around to it–and the election is in three days’ time so I can’t really be arsed, to be frank.
That’s not to say I don’t care about the election–I do, very deeply, and will be trotting off to the polling station early on Thursday morning to make my mark (not that it actually matters in Southwark, the safest flaming LibDem seat in the country–but that’s not really the point). I also care about a number of issues, and having spent a few years in a foreign country paying taxes and whatnot and not being able to vote, I was not unsympathetic when Jenny mooted the idea of a Thames Tea Party.
What we’d do, she said, was get a bunch of scientist friends who were working in the UK but who couldn’t vote, and throw some tea into that great river of ours to remind people (a) how unfair things still are and (b) that, actually, science depends on immigrants and maybe there should be some recognition of that fact. I would photograph the occasion for posterity, and we started drumming up support on twitter, with the hashtag #ThamesTeaParty.
And so it happened: a bunch of us turned up at Greenland Pier, Jenny handed out some tea leaves and we made a very, very weak cup of tea. Kat Brown at the Times really got behind the idea and wrote it up on the Election Blog.
A fun afternoon; we all had a great laugh and a jolly little post-revolutionary barbecue afterwards. But it was a serious point–after wars have been fought over these things, why are people still disenfranchised (at local and national levels)? We’re not talking about economic refugees or any sort of undesirable here: these are professional scientists who work, pay taxes, own property–yet can not have a say in the democracy they live in. It’s not just the UK being reactionary either; we at least allow Commonwealth citizens to vote in elections, although the arrangement is not reciprocal. And most graduate supervisors in the UK will encourage their charges to go to the US for at least their first post-doc, where they will face the same issue.
We scientists are an itinerate lot, highly-trained and relatively well off (which means we pay a lot in taxes) but a great many of us have no representation at any level. You’re not telling me that’s not worth a pack of tea.