nanoLessons for Obama from the Blair Years

Preparing for a week of Obama mania (I know several friends in the nanotech business who are heading to Washington for the show) I can’t help being reminded of Tony Blair’s 1997 election win which generated similar expectations, followed by the slow realisation that the guy was just an ordinary politician, just as self centred, insincere and incompetent as the government that we had replaced (Unlike many of my US colleagues I haven’t been angling for a post in the administration so I’m allowed to be cynical).

Fortunately I’m not alone in this view which significantly reduces my chance of being lynched by some of my uber democrat friends when I’m back in San Francisco next month – James Delingpole in this week’s Spectator articulates this from a more political standpoint.

From my nanotech/business point of view, what would be the consequences of Obama (or Blair MkII to continue Delingpoles analogy). Well economically his hands are tied, and no matter how good the rhetoric may be,  science is a long term project. We know from the Blair years that the standard procedure for anything that can’t be fixed before the next election is to set up a special commission to investigate it and hope the issue has gone away before anyone has to report back, and I can’t help wondering if all the pronouncements about science funding will be treated similarly by the incoming administration. Back in 2004 Tony Blair enthused “Nanotechnology opens up huge possibilities… but we must move fast if we are to stay in the race” and then kicked the subject into the long grass.

Certainly in the UK the government has dithered over nanotech at every opportunity, whether on funding or safety, and despite Blair’s ‘deep personal interest’ in the subject, one often got the impression that as soon as the meeting was over it was entirely forgotten about. Some funding is finally trickling out, but that follows years of thumb twiddling, and prevarication, probably due to the fact that none of the politics and economics graduates in the government had a clue what nanotechnology was unless they had to react to Prince Charles. While we all know that science is the engine of innovation, and therefore economic growth, the ongoing recession means that governments may just keep chucking money at the problem until there isn’t any left for science.

I’m sure Obama already has every single issue pressure group in the US and beyond clogging up his staffs mailboxes already, from the usual nanobot lunatics to fawning syncophants hoping to make a buck from congressional earmarks. However, as a first term president in a recession his main priority will to be getting re elected and getting America to feel good about itself (and equally important making the rest of the world feel good about America), so I suspect that a lot of the stuff that isn’t directly relevant to rebuilding the economy or stopping people killing each other in the Middle East will be just background noise for the new presidential ears.

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