Science at the Labour Party Conference – Ed captures hearts but not science

In my potter around the conference exhibition this afternoon, I stumbled upon a stand for the ‘People’s Museum’ here in Manchester which charts the struggles of the working class and houses the Labour Party’s official archives.

I wish I had time to pop along if only to check whether my knowledge of political history is as good as I would like to think.

I won’t be the first to make the comparisons between the scenario inherited by Ed Milliband and that by Harold Wilson in 1963 – a demoralised party emerging from election defeat, the country faced by a massive deficit etc etc.

Almost to the day 27 years ago, Harold Wilson made his infamous ‘white heat of technology’ speech to the Labour Party conference in Scarborough. ‘The Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated measures on either side of industry’ is what he actually said.

Brian Walden recounts in a BBC Online piece that later that day – 1 Oct 1963 – a trade union leader remarked that Harold Wilson had ‘captured science’. A strong statement indeed.

Delegates watching Ed Milliband on one of the exhibition tv screens

Ed Milliband’s speech today will no doubt be marked down as the ‘new generation’ speech and I understand his need to speak to his party above all at this time.  But given the impassioned speeches I have heard from shadow ministers this week about the need for a good story on growth and the importance of science in that story I was disappointed that we did not even get a hint of either in the Ed’s opening gambit.

I looked back at the programme for the Scarborough Conference and noticed that Dick Crossman was also speaking on the same day as Wilson about the organisation of university research.  Strange how these issues are cyclical, a shame that a sense of history is lost to us when facing the current.

I think Will Hutton said last night: ‘It is only science that can save us.’

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