Last July, I had the amazing opportunity for a meeting with Sir Keir Starmer, in his Westminster office. I recall it was a glorious day and the Thames was glistening in the sunlight outside the windows! 🌞

Only a few weeks earlier, I’d had one of those sliding doors moments. I was speaking at a charity launch alongside singer / actor / author / activist, Will Young. We instantly struck up a friendship, over our love of animals (and almost identical hairstyles). I was about to learn what having a famous friend could mean, opening up doors that you can otherwise knock on for a very long time, and perhaps not even imagine at all. Will asked me to go with him to meet Keir Starmer, and here we were at the Houses of Parliament!

First, we had to run the gauntlet of security and formalities, and had been invited to attend PMQ (the weekly Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons – such an eye opener! I’ll save that for another day!) I was feeling a little despondent. I’d clearly been virtually invisible to the middle-aged men in grey suits who assumed I couldn’t be there for anything serious and maybe was just an unknown friend of the pop star, along for the ride. But then it all changed the moment we were shown in to Sir Keir’s office and we received a really warm and authentic welcome. We were so pleased that, despite an obviously busy schedule, he gave us almost an hour of his time, and for the first time that day, I felt heard. Sir Keir listened attentively to what I had to say – as a scientist and as a businesswoman employing young scientists in the north west. He didn’t interrupt, and he repeated the key points back to me, keen to ensure he’d understood. We talked about the key scientific, economic and ethical issues around animal testing and the need for more investment into better science, creating future-fit jobs for young scientists across the UK and ensuring we once again become a world leader in this field. As the meeting came to a close, and others in the room chatted and said their goodbyes, Sir Keir took me to one side for a brief moment and asked me to ensure I follow up with his policy team, saying – and clearly meaning – that he felt this was a really important issue.

Photos were taken, and off we went, smiling. As we came out through the swing doors of Portcullis House and emerged back on to the streets of London, Will and I celebrated like two little school kids, knowing that our message had been heard and taken seriously, and excited for what was to come!

Timing can be everything! The meeting that Will Young and I had with Sir Keir Starmer, in July 2023, was around the time that many topics were being explored and party manifestos carefully researched, looking ahead to the General Election. Various NGOs had already been lobbying the major parties to get animal testing on the agenda.

In the weeks that followed, there was a sudden flurry of activity – discussions were held by Labour’s policy advisors across a wide range of stakeholders. Will’s support made a big difference and acted as the key, enabling the door to crack open. Animal testing, the credible arguments for better science, the economic potential, and the positive implications for human health, were all now firmly under the spotlight. I was able to recommend experts and connect Labour’s policy team to stakeholders across industry, regulators and NGOs, who could help to provide the broader picture and communicate what’s possible – now, in 1 year, in 5 years, in 10 years….

In October, we raised further awareness with a panel discussion at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, inviting experts from LUSH, Animal Aid, and Animal Free Research UK.

There were a number of commitments we wanted in Labour’s manifesto. Not all of them made it through. But here, for the first time, are the magic words in a pledge to “partner with scientists, industry and civil society as we work towards the phasing out of animal testing.” I know first-hand that a lot of work went on behind the scenes, leading to the decision that this is a credible and forward-thinking statement for a major political party to make – scientifically, economically and ethically – and it was made possible on the platform built by so many individuals and organisations over the years.

We all know that manifestos are one thing – actions are quite another. In the first few days of Sir Keir’s tenure as Prime Minister, “actions, not words” has been a key phrase. Having met the now-PM, and got a feel for the type of person he is, I do have faith that there are clear intentions to end animal testing in the UK, in favour of modern science, albeit in a phased approach. In his inaugural speech as PM, Sir Keir stated “With respect and humility, I invite you all to join this Government of service, in the mission of national renewal. Our work is urgent, and we begin it today.” I can’t help but feel next steps around animal testing go beyond the topic itself. They’re a part of building a more forward-thinking and sustainable society, with the UK as a world leader in science, creating exciting employment opportunities, resulting in safer products and medicines, and a more compassionate world. While there will no doubt be challenges to overcome, these are exciting and optimistic times!

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