By Toni Freitas - Genomics Forum Events Manager
The political party conferences are grabbing headlines on a daily basis, and only if you have been hiding under a rock or sunning yourself on some remote beach would you not know of the buzz these events have created in the media and in politics.
It was exciting for me to be involved in a small part of these events. For the first time, the ESRC Genomics Network organised fringe events at the Green, Liberal Democrat, Labour, and Conservative party conferences (see Christine’s blog) and the Forum website for more. Each event has a different topic up for discussion, and I got to attend the Green Party conference on 13 September and the Liberal Democrats conference on 21 September.
I’ve never been to any political party conference before, so I didn’t know what to expect. As you might guess, there was quite a contrast between the two events.
Green Party conference
At the Green Party conference, held in Birmingham, I was warmly greeted and thanked for coming to do a fringe event. I had a few spare minutes so took the opportunity to browse the stands celebrating the first Green MP and advertising green electricity options, among others.
Our fringe event was titled ‘The Politics of Plants’ with Professor Simon Bright, retired professor of plant science at University of Warwick and Chair of Egenis Advisory Board, and Steven Hunt, Consultant of Energy and International Project Management for Practical Action Consulting. I was lucky enough to Chair the event.
It was a well attended event and was a frank and vibrant discussion between the speakers and audience. Simon and Steven started off with presenting their ideas about plants being tools and resources, and how genomic science provides some powerful options to food security, energy security, climate change, and global environmental health. The audience questions and comments ranged from the possible uses of algae, the benefits of vegetarianism, the decline of bees, and the possibilities of farmers getting better yields from land being currently farmed.
Liberal Democrats conference
Heading to Liverpool the following week, I made my way to the impressive Arena and Convention Centre that was the main venue for the Liberal Democrats party conference. There was something slightly surreal about walking into the venue that I had seen on the news, past the cameras that are all set to capture the latest sound bite. I say walking, but it was more of a stop/start affair with my ID being checked every two feet and getting thoroughly searched at security.
There was an amazing buzz about the Lib Dem conference and the exhibition hall was packed with displays and delegates, with some stands that wouldn’t have been out of place at the Green party conference (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, British Humanist Association, and Campaign for Gender Balance to name a very few of the over 80 stands).
Our fringe event was an evening event titled ‘Pills or Progress: What is Needed to Improve Healthcare in Africa’. The Chair of the event was Malcolm Bruce, MP and the speakers were Dr Rebecca Hanlin, Innogen Co-Investigator and Lecturer in Development Policy & Practice, and Diarmaid McDonald, Coordinator from Stop AIDS Campaign. Unfortunately, the audience wasn’t as large as we had hoped, but we were competing with 28 other fringe events, including a live BBC ‘Have Your Say’ broadcast and the Tobacco Retailers Alliance serving free fish and chips down the hall. Hard to compete with those!
The presentations and discussion by Rebecca and Diarmaid were interesting and thought-provoking. Rebecca emphasised the need for finding policy solutions to issues surrounding pharmaceutical supplies in Africa as well as scientific solutions, and to look at options of creating local industry to produce low cost drugs and products for diseases like malaria, AIDS and TB. Diarmaid introduced the current StopAIDS Consortium work and discussed the benefits of patent pooling and centralising the administration of licences for medicines.
Both events provided the opportunity for prolonged discussions amongst delegates and speakers afterward.
I look forward to hearing from my ESRC Genomics Network colleagues on how they faired at the Labour and Conservative party conferences. I’m sure there will be a lot to learn from our first foray into political party conferences, but I think it has been a great experience to see firsthand how these events work and to get the opportunity to participate.