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Westminster loses ‘voice of reason’ as Huppert crashes out

Julian Huppert, a former scientist, has lost his seat as MP for Cambridge in a tight election contest, which also wiped out all but eight of his Liberal Democrat colleagues.

The business secretary Vince Cable, Treasury secretary Danny Alexander, energy secretary Ed Davey and schools minister David Laws all lost seats in a catastrophic election for the Lib Dems.

The former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who retained his Sheffield Hallam seat despite a student-led campaign to unseat him, resigned as leader after his party lost 48 seats, far more than predicted. The Lib Dems had just eight seats as this article went to press.

Huppert could not be reached for comment. However, on Twitter, he said: "I’m scared about what will happen to our country in the next five years on civil liberties, on the environment, on the EU, and much more. Scientists love control experiments—but I certainly didn’t want a Tory government to show how effective the Liberal Democrats actually were in government."

Huppert was known during his time in parliament for championing science, says Naomi Weir, the acting director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering. He was also instrumental in developing the Lib Dems’ science policy, which, unlike those of the Conservatives and Labour, calls for a rise in science spending and protection of the research budget.

He was active on many issues in parliament, from cycling to libel reform to drugs policy, which he said should be evidence-based. Ed Long, the chairman of the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists, says: “Parliament has probably lost its most effective and informed voice for science, but it’s not just a loss for science because he worked on so many other issues.”

Huppert lost his seat by 599 votes to Labour’s Daniel Zeichner, who won 18,646 votes: a 36 per cent share to Huppert’s 35 per cent. Green Party candidate Rupert Read, a philosophy academic at the University of East Anglia, won 7.9 per cent of the vote.

An active parliamentarian, Huppert spoke in 78 debates in the last year alone, well above the average. He turned up for 77 per cent of votes, also above average, and rebelled against his party to vote down the controversial trebling of tuition fees. The hike in fees is likely to have contributed to the party’s electoral losses.

He was also popular among scientists around the country, and especially at the University of Cambridge, for standing up for science in the House of Commons. He frequently drew on his experiences as a researcher in Commons debates. According to Michelle Cain, a postdoctoral researcher at Cambridge: “He would speak up for funding for science and also for making decisions based on evidence, not just the party line.”  

The Cambridge-based business consultant Ann Hawkins adds that Huppert made reasoned arguments.

Other Lib Dem casualties include Team Science, a group of six parliamentary candidates who had pledged to champion science during their campaigns, and in Westminster, if elected. None of the candidates won their seats.
One member of Team Science, the former maths teacher Simon Wright, who was elected as MP for Norwich South in 2010, saw his support crumble. He won just 13.6 per cent of the vote and came fourth, with Labour’s Clive Lewis taking the seat.
Another member of the group, Layla Moran, a physics teacher, lost out to the incumbent MP Nicola Blackwood in Oxford West and Abingdon. Blackwood, moreover, increased her share of the vote from 2010, when she defeated the popular Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris.
Long adds that he is worried an incoming Conservative-led government will cut funding for science as one element of the party’s overall pledge to shrink spending.
“They say they want to increase science activity but they haven’t made any commitment to ring-fencing science,” he says. “Given that they want to cut overall, it seems unlikely that they would want to preserve a ring fence in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. All of the indicators point towards cuts.”
Huppert’s Team Science biography notes that he still holds the position of lecturer at Cambridge. He was on long-term leave while in parliament.