The votes are in, counted and verified – Labour has been chosen as our new Government. As Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (NCOB), I would like to congratulate Sir Keir Starmer and the party on this achievement.

Labour’s promise of Change, a compelling sales pitch to the British public, is rooted in creating a Government that is mission-driven and willing to prioritise longtermism. Upon reviewing Labour’s manifesto alongside the NCOB’s own strategy there are clear points where our interests intersect, but there are some where I suggest the party could go further.

First, Labour’s preference for ten-year Research and Development (R&D) budgets is something to encourage. I believe it will serve to strengthen connections between strategic foresight and funding priorities, which can prove harder to align when working to shorter financial cycles.

Second, I am interested in their idea to establish a new Regulatory Innovation Office, which would unite cross-government functions and speed up approval processes. Innovation creates its biggest ethical challenges when technology outpaces current regulatory frameworks. But changing regulation takes time and can be onerous, which is why it is often regarded as inhibitory to progress. I suspect, that bringing agility into this space is something many would welcome. Indeed, a current interest we have, is exploring how ethical considerations could be weaved into regulatory sandboxes, which originate from the financial sector and now appear to be gaining traction across the biomedicine ecosystem. For example, the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) recently announced a £5 million fund to explore their use in the field of engineering biology. Developing a UK regulatory system that can respond to advancements in a timely and robust way will give us the best chance of achieving regulation that is proportionate, supportive of innovation, and ethically grounded.

Third, another proposal that caught my eye is Labour’s plan to establish an independent Ethics and Integrity Commission. This may not fit squarely into our bioethics agenda, but it is encouraging to see the party referring to ‘ethics’ as a way for them to measure standards across Westminster. To me, this demonstrates an awareness of ethics and trust fitting hand in glove.

So, there is much within Labour’s ambitions that the NCOB is aligned to. However, it would be remiss of me to not highlight where I think they could and should go further. Labour’s election campaign emphasised how the party has pivoted towards being mission-driven, putting country before party. However, there is little mention within their manifesto of the methods they will use to ensure their policies reflect public values and desires.

In autumn, we will publish the findings of England’s first Citizens’ Jury to explore public views on assisted dying. Having had the opportunity to observe one of the sessions, I can say with personal admiration of the Jurors that what I witnessed was a robust, rigorous and sensitive deliberation of a hugely complex topic. Together, they reached a consensus and created recommendations that we hope will provide policymakers with the evidence they need to have a debate that is informed by public attitudes.

Gathering this level of public insight can only be achieved by taking the time to engage directly with diverse audiences. And it is this level of insight that I would argue is needed to ensure the policies being created reflect public values, garner public trust and are best placed to balance the inevitable trade-offs. As such, I would encourage Labour to commit to embedding participatory methods into their policy development processes.

I will end by acknowledging that the ethical implications raised by advances in biomedicine are messy. On one hand, new technology could provide answers to some of the most pressing health issues we are facing, but on another they could, if not appropriately assessed, widen our already stark population inequities. By being unafraid to explore and discuss the ethical implications, we can help ensure our policies reflect public values, that regulation is proportionate and diverse interests are balanced. In short, by policymaking being ethically aware we can get closer to making choices that result in a better and more equitable experience for all. The NCOB looks forward to working with Labour in this endeavour.

Comments (1)

  • Ian McNay   

    I agree with what you say. It is good to see ethics being discussed after the lack of them displayed by the outgone government and the dangers posed by AI among other things. For me there has been a moral difference and distance between the Tories and their main opposition (though none are guiltless}. The stream of reports on doctoral plagiarism and misreporting ad mis representation in HE across Europe shows that we cannot claim driven snow purity.

    And, can you check the location of the apostrophe in Citizen's Jury, please and then have it corrected?

    Ian McNay

Join the conversation