An Arup structural engineer standing for the Conservatives in next month’s general election has told NCE about her campaign - and why more engineers should be involved in politics.
Isobel Grant, who worked on the 2012 Olympics and Crossrail projects, is running for the Bristol South seat.
Engineers are a minority in politics, and were not listed in a paper on the social backgrounds of politicians by the House of Commons Library in 2010.
This listed lawyers, doctors, miners and teachers as the most common among MPs.
Grant said she first became interested in politics when she found herself “shouting at the TV”. She wanted to have a part in the decision making process, and knew her skills as an engineer could make her a valuable part of the political system.
Engineering can be found in many political issues, said Grant. Her speciality is the transport network. She is campaigning for “efficient, connected and affordable” public transport in south Bristol.
Grant is currently working in Arup’s infrastructure division. She has a 15 year career in road, rail and aviation projects. She believes she and other engineers are well placed to use their first hand experience to turn manifesto promises into practical solutions.
“I think efficiency and effectiveness and how thing get done are something I have learnt from private practice,” she said.
“I have worked in councils and with councils, where they don’t necessarily have that mind-set. I’m interested in what works - I’m not interested in theory.”
She added that “the many discussions politicians have” may put off engineers who were used to “just getting things done”. But she was quick to say that this was an important part of the political process and should not be seen as a barrier.
Grant was a local councillor from 2011 to 2014. One of the difficulties she has faced as a politician has been public speaking - but she said she learnt to overcome this.
“Lots of engineers have very good speaking skills, but I didn’t,” she said. “I didn’t have that kind of exposure, so I have had a massive learning curve in the last two or three years. But I have learnt. You can learn to speak well, I am so much better than I was. It’s not something which should put people off.”
Grant doesn’t feel that a career in politics would stop her from going back into engineering, and wants to return to the profession one day.
She is positive but pragmatic about the upcoming election.
“Even if I don’t win, at least I’ve been a part of the mix - and made it a mix.”
Grant wants to promote engineering across the political spectrum and hopes that more engineers will take part in this and the next election.
“Sometimes it seems like politics is just a big machine, but they’re just people and if you’re a part of that, then you can make a change. Just get involved.”
Other engineers standing in the General Election
Isobel Grant is not the only engineer standing in May’s general election.
Naomi Long is running for the Alliance Party in Belfast East. She graduated in 1994 from Queen’s University Belfast with an MEng in civil engineering with distinction.
Graduating at the time of the first ceasefires in Northern Ireland, she said politics had a big influence on her throughout her nine years working as a structural and sewerage engineer before moving into politics.
“I just thought it was important for people to take a stand and to get involved in shaping the society around them whether that was physically in the job I was doing or whether that was with the policies and other things that were happening in the city and the changes that were taking place,” she said.
Another engineer, Tony Hughes, is standing as Liberal Democrat candidate for Rutherglen and Hamilton West in Scotland.
- If you are an engineer standing for MP, or know one who is, NCE would like to hear your story