The UK has a General Election looming on 6 May, thereby giving newspapers enough hot air to puff up their websites. But what should their science writers talk about during such times? With the launch of Britain's Science Party, science journalists can now also join in the ritual inflation of unlikely promises, although in science's case it is more likely a desperate attempt to be heard at all. Mark Henderson of The Times has, however, launched into this with a certain relish, without forgetting that the science reader also wants some data to bite on.

Henderson first sounds a cautious note in that science is never going to be a higher priority than taxes, the economy, the health service, pensions and education. However, the perception is that Britain is falling further behind its industrial competitors as it stubbornly pursues its parsimonious funding of basic research to the obvious detriment of technological development. The state of British science therefore has a voice on both education and the economy. And although the British system is poor in getting national representation for single issues it is susceptible to local concerns, such as could arise in hitech towns such as Cambridge, Oxford, Guildford and others, if only the electorate would make their views better known. One other way to push science up the political agenda is to look at the scientific backgrounds of MPs.

In a related blog post, Henderson has done some analysis of the current state of scientific knowledge in Westminster compared with the projected outcome after this election – and the figures look grim. There are currently 86 out of 646 MPs who are deemed to be science-friendly. “We've done our very best to include details of every candidate we know of with a science background of some sort - those with a relevant degree, those who've worked in science-related businesses, and those who have been active in the politics of science.” Sadly, many of the most supportive parliamentarians are stepping down at this election, leaving an estimated 77 out of 651 MPs who fit the same criteria. In terms of research experience the numbers are even starker, with all of the nine PhD holders likely to be absent from the new parliament and only three new members being science postgraduates.

However, looking beyond the quantitative data, some of the outgoing MPs have been more hopeful that some non-scientists will step up to the plate and express their passion for science within those important committees on funding, research, education and so on.

"The important thing is we haven't to be precious about scientists. I'm not a scientist, I'm a teacher. But I have a real passion and interest in science. My experience is you can become a champion of science without a strong science background provided people do not ostracise you for your lack of expertise.” says Phil Willis, who was Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee.

"That for me was the biggest challenge in my early days as chairman. It was mostly within Parliament, it wasn't in the wider community though there was some of it, well he's not a scientist therefore he's not a serious player. Whenever you do that you create a false barrier and put people off. What we need are people who do not have a strong science background who will champion it because it's important to their constituency, or it's important to the health of their constituency, or simply because it's important."

But then again, would a scientist really make a good politician? The Times supplies a handy little guide summarising the shrinking science constituency in Britain's Parliament, as mentioned above, as well as listing a few well-known examples of politicians with science backgrounds: Angela Merkel, chemist and Chancellor of Germany; Hu Jintao, hydraulic engineer and President of China; and who could forget Margaret Thatcher, chemist and former British Premier. Indeed, Thatcher would often appear to treat her cabinet colleagues as mere bits of apparatus. What would be interesting is whether any of these politicians feel that their scientific training has brought any insights into their political life. In 1985 Oxford University snubbed Thatcher by refusing her the customary honorary degree as a protest against her cuts in education. So, perhaps there should be more focus on lobbying on the scientific issues rather than hoping that more scientist-politicians will necessarily all be science fans.