Ivory Tower: We check in with the UK’s leading University Media Relations team.
An office, somewhere in SW1…
McCall [on the phone]: Well, if he won’t let you do it, have you thought about Plan C, minister?… I don’t know… Two weeks in Ibiza for all post-docs?… You could tie it in with the mobility scheme… Call it Turing All-in… I’m sorry minister, I’m only trying to help… How is the new office, by the way?… Exactly the same as the old office, I see. Have they changed the plate on the door?… No, still the science minister, I see. So, remind me, what was the point of creating a new ministry for science?… No, me neither. Anyway, we are very grateful to have won the contract for media relations for the department, and we are working on the launch event as we speak… Oh yes, glitz and glamour minister, definitely… Well, you know that open deck bus of national treasures they wheeled out for the Queen’s platinum jubilee. Yes, well, most of them have said no, but we’ve got Brian Cox… no the other one… yes, I agree the other one would be better… look I’ve got to jump on a Zoom call with Sydney in a minute… no, Sydney, Australia, minister. Sorry, who did you say? Sidney who?… I don’t know who that is, minister… A TikTok star? No, I don’t think we’ve reached that stage of event planning yet, minister. I’ll keep you informed and brief you in a couple of days. Got to go, bye. [puts phone down] Although God knows we are scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to science policy.
Janet: Do you need me to set up the laptop for a Zoom, Mr McCall?
McCall: No, I just said that to get him off the phone. He’s becoming obsessed about the media launch for the new science ministry.
Janet: You mean, you lied to a client?
McCall: I was merely managing expectations. Don’t they teach you anything on that degree apprenticeship course?
Janet: I’m currently on a deep dive placement at the industry coal face.
McCall: What are you doing?
Janet: I was about to make Mr Juniper a cup of tea, would you like one?
McCall: Yes, please, and then let’s look at the invite list for this wretched science ministry launch.
Janet: Will do.
Juniper: Is everything alright, Oliver? You sound like a man out of love with his art.
McCall: I’ve really had enough of this government, Alexander, when are we getting a new one?
Juniper: Probably not until the end of next year. These are austere times, Oliver, you’ll just have to make do with the government you’ve got. See, if you can’t spin it out a bit longer.
McCall: I can’t believe Michelle Donelan is back.
Juniper: At least we don’t have to look at Grant Shapps anymore.
McCall: You could have fun pretending to forget his name. Sunak is just determined to make everything so bland and beige. I’m surprised he hasn’t brought back Greg Clark.
Juniper: Thank goodness for the DUP.
McCall: Quite, but they are blocking our Horizon Europe association field trip to Brussels.
Janet: Here’s a tea for you, Mr Juniper, and one for you Mr McCall, and here’s the list.
Juniper: This is entirely white.
Janet: I was trying to use up the milk before it goes off.
Juniper: No, this is a blank piece of paper.
Janet: Turn it over.
Juniper: Brian Cox? Anyone else?
McCall: That’s as far as we’ve got. You see, this government stinks so much of decay that no one in their right mind would want to be seen standing next to a minister at a gala event.
Juniper: Not even the vice-chancellors?
Janet: No, of course they are all coming.
McCall: Try and stop them.
Janet: And the science policy people, too. This is the celebrity list that will get us a photo on the front page of the broadsheets.
Juniper: Have we actually asked Brian Cox?
Janet: Which one?
Juniper: Either of them.
McCall: One said he would rather pluck his liver out with a knitting needle. The other hasn’t returned our call, so I’m banking that as a maybe.
Juniper: Where is this event?
Janet: The Science Museum.
Juniper: Ten out of ten for imagination, zero out of ten for levelling-up.
McCall: I am not getting on a train to Middlesbrough to drink a glass of lukewarm white wine and listen to a speech by the science minister.
Juniper: Isn’t there a science museum in Halifax?
McCall: I can see the headlines now: Minister’s Shock End in Happy Valley.
Janet: Might make it easier for one of the Brian Coxes to get there if he works in Manchester.
McCall: I can assure you that it is quicker to get a train from Manchester to London than it is to Halifax. Or it used to be…
Janet: We’d have to ship all the celebrities up north.
Juniper: Don’t they have celebrities up there?
Janet: Channel Four News has moved to Leeds.
McCall: So, that’s Cathy Newman, plus one, any others?
Juniper: I don’t think she’s personally moved to Leeds, it’s just the studio.
McCall: OK, so, that’s Cathy Newman’s cameraman plus one, any others?
Janet: Ant and Dec?
McCall: Shouldn’t they have some vague familiarity with science?
Juniper: Well, if you are going to draw that line, some people might query Michelle Donelan.
McCall: If only we still had dear old David Bellamy, he ticked every box: a bloke off the telly, had something to do with Durham, didn’t believe in climate change.
Juniper: Janet, have you still got that Scientists for Brexit list?
Janet: It was more of a post-it note.
Juniper: Can you remember who was on it?
Janet: They’ve all gone, I’m afraid.
McCall: They are all dead?
Janet: No, they’ve all moved to Europe.
McCall: This is hopeless. Northern science launch? Pigs might fly.
McCall: No, pigs, do try to keep up Janet.
Janet: No, Peter Higgs.
Juniper: Is he one of those TikTok stars?
Janet: No, Peter Higgs is a Nobel Prize winner, as in the Higgs-Boson particle. I listened to a podcast about it the other day. I think he’s from Newcastle or somewhere.
McCall: Brilliant, Janet! I can see the headline now, “Minister and Nobel Winner in Happy Valley Sunlit Uplands”. They’ll love that. You look for Higgs’ email, I’ll phone the minister [picks up the phone, dials] George, how are you?… Good, good, look we’ve made a bit of progress here and think we’ve found you a science super star to launch you as a science superpower…
Juniper: Well done, Janet, excellent work. Have you managed to find an email address?
Janet: Oh dear, Mr Juniper.
Juniper: What’s up? What have you found?
McCall [still on phone]: Yes, I think we should book an entire train load of ministers, scientists and celebs to Halifax, leaving from Euston, we’ll call it the Innovation Nation Express…
Janet: I don’t think Peter Higgs will be suitable after all.
Juniper: Why not? He’s not been cancelled, has he?
Janet: Worse than that Mr Juniper, he was heavily involved with the university lecturers’ trade union at the University of Edinburgh. It says here, he thinks he caused so much trouble that the university wanted to sack him, had it not been for the chance he might win a Nobel Prize.
Juniper: Probably not an ideal candidate to sit next to Rishi Sunak at dinner. Better show, Oliver.
McCall [on phone]: We could deck the place out in fun science stuff. What’s that thing when you roll down a hill in a giant plastic ball? Zorbing? Do you think Rishi would want to do that?… You think he looks enough like a hamster already? Interesting… hold on minister, my colleague is just alerting me to some breaking news [covers the mouthpiece] what is it Alexander, this had better be important?
Juniper: Read this.
McCall: Peter Higgs bla, bla bla… Nobel Prize bla, bla, bla… apologies, minister, I’ll be with you in just one minute… University of Edinburgh bla, bla, bla… trade union firebrand! Ah, I see… hello, minister, are you still there? Yes, it looks as if Sydney is back online now. I’ll have to go, I’m afraid. I think my colleagues have had a really productive redesign of your launch event. Nobel Prizes are so old hat, no media appeal in that. Have you thought about TikTok stars? Influencing young people through digital… Yes, we could still have the train from Euston, full of ministers and TikTokers… and vice-chancellors… Yes, if you really want to, we can call it Freeman’s Highway. Ok got to go now, Sydney and all that, bye.
Juniper: That was a close one.
Janet: I think I’ll make another cup of tea and look out the West Coast line timetable and that post-it note of TikTokers for Brexit.