Simon Singh on Evan Harris.
Apologies for the mass mailing, but you are receiving this email because you are either a scientist or a skeptic or someone connected with Oxford, or maybe all three. I am writing because you might be able to help British science by helping Evan Harris MP to retain his seat in parliament.
Along with Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling, Colin Blakemore, Lisa Appignanesi and many others, I am supporting the campaign to keep Dr Evan Harris in Parliament as a voice for science, secularism and free expression.
Evan has been the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West & Abingdon since May 1997 and he is the Lib Dem spokesman for science. But our support for him is not party political; and it goes beyond the interests of his constituency. Indeed, you can see further below a long list of the vital issues that Evan has championed.
Ordinarily, Evan should be safe at the election, but boundary changes and an aggressive campaign to unseat him mean that we might be about to lose science's best friend in Parliament.
How can you help?
If you are based in the Oxford West & Abingdon constituency then please consider voting for Evan. If you are not in that constituency, then please forward this email to anybody you know who might live in his constituency.
Why should you help?
Over the past 13 years, Evan has been a fearless spokesman for evidence-based policy-making, opposing religious privilege, and promoting freedom of expression. He has led many campaigns inside and outside parliament, including:
* reforming libel laws, which stifle academic free expression (Evan set up and heads the parliamentary wing of the libel reform coalition in Parliament which supported me in my successful defence against the British Chiropractic Association and which is helping press for law reform)
* promoting the necessity for liberal updated laws allowing stem cell research (Evan coordinated colleagues, scientists, clinicians and patient groups campaigning for the passage of the HFE Bill)
* abolishing the blasphemy law (Evan laid the amendments and built the coalition which forced the repeal)
* helping to expose the fraudulent research that led to the costly and damaging MMR/Autism myth (Evan was the most vocal MP defending the vaccine at the height of the media scare);
* repealing the laws of seditious libel and criminal defamation whose presence in our statute back gave cover for their use by oppressive regimes against writers and journalists abroad
* supporting scientists who do regulated and licensed medical research involving animals in the face of extremist intimidation (Evan was closely involved in the Pro-Test campaign supporting Oxford scientists);
* working with English PEN and Rowan Atkinson, to defeat the Government on their sweeping proposed religious hatred laws (Evan organised the campaign which led to that victory).
* defending the importance of independent scientific advice (Evan was first politician to defend the rights of expert science advisers following the dismissal of Professor David Nutt);
In all these campaigns Evan has worked on a cross-party basis, and by and large he has been successful. Many in the science community know him and hold him in very high regard.
Evan's constituency is marginal and he faces a strong challenge in the current General Election from the Conservative Party, which has been moving campaigning activity and substantial financial resources from neighbouring safe Conservative seats. There have been boundary changes and only a 7% swing would see Evan replaced by someone who does not share his commitment to science.
The task of holding the seat has been made more difficult by the delivery throughout the constituency, of a glossy leaflet attacking Evan for his pro-science and pro-choice record (view at www.thestraightchoice.org/leaflets/2533). This was paid for by a "Pro-life" group and will undoubtedly have done some damage.
Keith Mann, an animal rights extremist, who served three terms in prison for offences including possession of explosives, has not only made defamatory and inflammatory personal attacks (http://fromdusktildawn.org.uk/evanharris) on Evan distributed across the constituency but is even standing against him in the Election.
The next Parliament is likely to be a challenging one for science and an important one for issues to do with free expression and strong advocates there will be more important than ever. We believe that it is important for Evan's voice to continue to be heard.