General Election 2017: Labour on Science


Brexit? Trump? Do you want politics to stop, already?

Well too bad! Theresa May has called a general election. Over the next week, pH7 will look at where each party stands on science. We’ll start with Labour. How does their science policy shape up?

(Manifesto here. Leader’s science statement here)

Brexit and Budget:

Brexit is one of the defining issues of this election. Most scientists were pro-EU. So how will UK science fare now we’re leaving?

Short answer: we don’t know. pH7 gave an even handed account before the referendum, but was clear about the benefits the EU brought to UK science – both financial and collaborative. Now we’re leaving, uncertainty about the UK’s future science relationship abounds.

Labour don’t shed much light on how Brexit will hit science. Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, mentions it in passing.

Because most Labour MPs represent leave seats, and most constituents cite immigration as why*, Labour has said they’ll end freedom of movement. They also want to keep the single market and all the juicy benefits that come with it.

Is this possible? Guy Verhofstadt, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, says it isn’t. To end free movement, Britain must leave the single market. If the EU ties Horizon-2020 and FP-9 to freedom of movement, the UK ends up in the same position Switzerland did.

That’s not the end of the story, though. Keir Starmer has said Labour will prioritise the economy over immigration. Labour say they’ll reintroduce the Migrant Impact Fund, and pledge to prevent employers from recruiting foreign workers if it undercuts British ones. That’s similar to how Switzerland compromised with the EU over free movement. It’s possible (albeit pure speculation on our part) Labour would compromise in the same way.

Labour would guarantee EU nationals the right to stay. Securing the rights of EU academics in the UK who can’t apply for permanent residency, and don’t earn enough for skilled visas, will reduce uncertainty about their future. Labour want to remain part of Erasmus, make students exempt from migration targets, and continue the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions programme – which evidence says benefits research communities.

Funding wise, Labour propose raising R&D spending to 3% of GDP. This is in line with countries like Germany, nearly double current chancellor Philip Hammond’s pledge, and above the OECD’s 2.4% average.

Climate Change:

Labour would subsidise landlords and homeowners to increase home efficiency by changing stamp duty incentives; offering 0% interest loans to make your house more efficient; and reintroducing the Landlord Energy Savings Allowance.

Labour aims to strengthen green industry via a National Investment Bank (seeing as the Green one was sold off), but ignore the role private sector companies can play in boosting green industry.

Because Brexit, Labour say they’ll work closely with Europe on climate change. However, by leaving we forfeit representation in the bloc and weakens the UK’s ability to fight for tougher EU climate goals.

Energy: A Labour government would commit to 60% of energy coming from zero carbon or renewable sources by 2030, and keep EU efficiency legislation. If this sounds less ambitious than Ed Miliband’s goal to totally decarbonise energy by 2030, it’s because it is.

Labour would ban fracking, saying it’s inconsistent with UK carbon targets (they’re right). They have their eyes on expanding nuclear energy, and would aim to stay in EURATOM (super important).

The Environment:

Labour would safeguard EU environmental laws, and champion the Environmental Goods Agreement at the World Trade Organisation to reduce tariffs on pollution reducing goods.

Closer to home, Labour would introduce a Clean Air Act (3 guesses what it’ll do), blue belts for coasts to protect marine ecosystems (two thumbs up from the Blue Marine Foundation) and plant a million trees. This works out to less than the 4 million planted in 2014-15. And even then, conservationists complained planting levels were too low.

Public Health:

Labour focuses on inequality, seeing as it’s a big cause of poor health in children and adults. According to 2014 data from health think-tank The King’s Fund, rich neighbourhoods live roughly 7 years more than poor ones. In Westminster, the richest 10% live an average of 8.6 years longer than the bottom 10%.

To shrink the health gap, Labour would put £250 million to a Children’s Health Fund focused on tackling smoking and alcoholism. Labour fail to mention between 2003 and 2013 smoking and drinking rates among teens halved; however the evidence says these measures produce good returns on investment.

For mental health, Labour would boost funding for children, and guarantee counselling services in all secondary schools. This is a smart investment (£3.75 return in reduced mental health costs for every £1 spent). They’ve also committed to a shadow secretary for mental health in any Labour cabinet.

Labour’s public health plan doesn’t talk much about inactivity or bad diets, which cost the NHS £1.1 billion and £4.2 billion a year respectively. They don’t talk about how they’d address food inequality, either (poorer people have worse diets, and higher rates of dietary related illness). Like Ed Miliband’s Labour, Jez wants to see a sugar tax (meh) and new guidelines on food labels (also meh)

The King’s Fund say health costs related to transport are £40 billion a year (from air pollution, accidents, and reduced exercise). Getting people out their cars provide large returns on investment. For every person who walks to school/work, the government gets £768 back; and they get £538 back for every person who cycles. Compare this to the £15 return on every £1 spent on school smoking interventions, or £5 return per £1 spent on alcohol and drug support circles.

So do Labour say how they’ll get us walking or cycling?

No. The manifesto has a measly half-sentence about upgrading the National Cycle Network.


Labour’s GM policy, going on Jeremy Corbyn’s Scientists for Labour statement, is basically fine. Listen to the science, ask the public, and implement each crop on a case-by-case basis.

Labour will ban neonicotinoids to save bees – in line with growing evidence the pesticide is harmful (see: here, here, here and here). But more needs to be done to save bee populations. They’d also stop the badger cull (seeing as the last round didn’t stop bovine TB)

So do they deserve my vote?

Their climate and energy policies are less ambitious than Ed Miliband’s. However – with plans to make homes more energy efficient and a fracking ban – it’s arguably more focused. Those in the nuclear industry will be happy to hear about committing to EURATOM.

Labour are right to talk about ill health and inequality, but fail to put forward a plan to tackle dietary inequality. They also ignore the potential benefits of making walking and cycling viable for more people.

On Brexit, guaranteeing EU citizens right to stay should ease some Brexit uncertainty. 3% of GDP on R&D is welcome news to those worried about losing EU money, and those who want to see more money go into science. However, ending free movement will likely deny Britain Horizon-2020 (and FP-9) access. It’ll also hurt UK science’s competitive edge.


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