Where will the next General Election be won?

The next general election “will be won or lost in 80 marginal constituencies where the number of knowledge economy jobs at risk from global competition is greater than the majority of the incumbent MP”.

A quick glance at the Labour Party conference managazine shows many groups lobbying for attention, but not for action to help create or attract the jobs of the future. The fringe programme for the Conservative Conference is little better.

The Report of Ian Taylor’s Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Task Force on meeting the challenge of maintaining the UK high tech skills and research base may have massive support across the Universities and among major Aerospace, Pharmaceutical and ICT employers. It may even have the support of David Cameron, who said “The Conservative Party is acutely aware that science and engineering are key to our national competitiveness – and this substantial report sets out a ocnstructive anhd effective way forward for these vital industries”.

But will the arguments feature in an election campaign?

Even if only in those cities with universities, science parks and areospace, pharmaceutical and ICT employers, where a million or so swing voters have a persosal interest in the need for action.

If not, why not – and does it matter anyway?

The central message of the STEM report is that “the UK cannot afford to be complacent about the resilience of our science and engineering base as the evidence shows that we are falling behind our major competitors in key indicators of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

Last year the EURIM paper “A Flourishing Information Economy” raised the need for postive government action to act to attract and retain businesses that could be located anywhere in the world.

But who is putting the argument that government will not be able to pay for all the politically attractive policies for which the party conference groupies are lobbying, unless it takes the knowledge economy industries and the high level skills base which underpins so many of them, very much more seriously?

Perhaps it does not matter that such issues are not debated at the party conferences, provided Gordon Brown steals the best of the Conservative party’s clothes.

But unless he does, your job prospects will be greatly diminished – unless you join the ranks of those emigrating to the Pacific Rim – where the universities of Australia, Canada and New Zealand are overtaking those of the UK in attracting the Chinese, Malaysian and Vietnamese students who will create most of the knowledge economy jobs of the future.

Cambridge, Imperial, the London School of Economics, Warwick and a few others may still be seen as “gold standard” for the intellectual elite but giving priority to social inclusion rather than excellence poses great risks. Instead we need to copy Harvard in consciously and deliberately marrying the two approaches.

Harvard analysed its donors over century ago and found that support and scholarships to seriously bright children from the slums of New York created much more successful and more generous alumni than “merely” farming the US equivalent of the upper middle class and urban intelligentsia. At the time its endowments were less than those of Oxford or Cambridge. Today they are nearly ten times those of all the UK universities added together.

How do we find ways of moving political debate from “either/or” to “both”?

And how do we get such debate on the poliitcal agenda – particularly in those communities and constituencies whose votes will swing the next election?