University of Leicester politics expert to be embedded in UK Parliament

A politics expert from the University of Leicester has landed a role that will see him bring topical, policy-focused research to the desks of MPs, Lords and those working in Parliament.

Dr Rick Whitaker, Associate Professor in European Politics, is one of three UK academics to be seconded to Parliament as a Thematic Research Lead.

Dr Whitaker’s role, which begins in January 2023, will see him focus on Parliament, public administration and constitution.

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), in collaboration with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), announced the appointment of the new roles, funded by ESRC, in Parliament on Monday 21 November. 

The three postholders will each join new thematic policy hubs which will bring together staff from POST, the House of Commons Library and Select Committee teams, ensuring greater co-ordination and a better flow of research information through Parliament.  

The Thematic Research Leads will strengthen links Parliament’s links to the research community. Based on the concept of Chief Scientific Advisers, they will ensure a strong evidence base for debate and legislation. 

Sir Patrick Vallance, whose role as Chief Scientific Adviser gained such prominence during the Covid 19 pandemic, said: “The role of research and evidence in policy making has never been more important. Building on the work of POST, these fellowships will play a vital role, giving Parliamentarians further access to the very best independent evidence to inform their business and ensure effective and equitable policy.” 

Dr Whitaker said: “I am honoured to be taking on this exciting new role and very much looking forward to bringing the latest academic research on Parliament, public administration and the constitution to the process of policy-making in Parliament. Ensuring MPs and peers are more aware of and better understand relevant academic research will lead to more informed parliamentary debate and scrutiny.”

For nearly ten years, the ESRC has collaborated with Parliament by investing in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). Together, they have embedded social science research in Parliament, developed a world-leading Knowledge Exchange Unit, and established a culture of knowledge exchange between Parliament and the research community. 

Professor Alison Park, Interim Executive Chair of ESRC, said: “This launch event marks the next stage in nearly a decade of very fruitful collaboration between ESRC and POST. ESRC is now funding three excellent academics from different disciplines to be the first Thematic Research Leads in the UK Parliament.  

“I look forward to seeing the ways in which these roles put research evidence at the heart of Parliament’s work to address the most pressing societal challenges. In particular, I hope this new investment will continue to build the capability of Parliament to work with academics, as well as helping to create a new generation of policy-minded academics.”

Each academic will join a different thematic policy hub, working alongside Parliamentary research staff to share their impartial expertise and deep knowledge of a policy area. They will bring insights from the wider academic community and support horizon scanning to ensure that Parliamentarians and their staff are able to access high quality and relevant research briefings on current and future issues. 

Adam Afriyie MP, Chair of the POST Board, said: “We live in a world where fake news can gain traction in an instant and evidence can be eschewed in favour of conjecture. This collaboration is a real opportunity to ensure that impartial evidence and research are at the heart of our Parliament. “These new posts will ensure that MPs and policy makers can find relevant and, crucially, accurate data at a time when it is more vital than ever.” 

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, said: “This is an exciting development for Parliament. POST has always been an outstanding resource for colleagues. Now, we will have links to academia truly embedded in our Parliament as well as access to the most current scientific insights.”  

Dr Whitaker’s research focuses principally on the UK Parliament, British political parties and the European Parliament. His recent projects include a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council of how Parliament dealt with the Brexit process and of the divisions within political parties during that time. He has also analysed the strategic use of parliamentary questions under the period of coalition government (2010-15) at Westminster. His research has been published in leading political science journals and he is the author of The European Parliament’s Committees: National Party Influence and Legislative Empowerment. He is the review editor for Government and Opposition and was a visiting fellow at the Australian National University in 2019. 


Photo credit: UK Parliament/Annabel Moeller