The Commons touch

Some readers may have caught a recent lively radio debate on the question of why engineers and scientists are so woefully under-represented in the ranks of our national decision-makers.

The show produced some interesting food for thought. The point was made – and made well – that at a time when many of the UK’s big challenges require technical solutions, the overwhelming majority of those deciding how they should be met are from non-technical backgrounds.

The House of Commons is heavily populated by lawyers, management consultants, civil servants, trade union officials, assorted City of London types and career political activists.

Engineers and scientists are harder to find, by contrast. The twin questions discussed on the BBC were why is this, and does it matter? As to the why, it may well be that engineers are too busy getting on with the business of developing things, making sure they work and getting them produced to have the time or inclination for the endless talking, trimming, compromising and in some cases evading that comes with a political career.

Does this matter? The Engineer would suggest it does, for the very reason stated earlier. Look at a list of the big challenges confronting the UK and see how many of them will rely in whole or part on the judicious deployment of technology to overcome them.

Energy provision, environmental issues, flood protection, transport policy and the establishment of a sustainable high-tech economy are just a few.

Of course there is no reason why the lawyers, consultants and the rest cannot make reasonable decisions on these issues. And they would point to the availability of an army of specialist advisers to help them make those judgements.

But when all is said and done, advisers advise and legislators decide. A few more engineers and others with a broader understanding of the technology that underpins the policy would be a welcome addition to our body politic. The pay is good and the holidays are long. Any takers?

Andrew Lee


The Engineer & The Engineer Online