It is pretty clear to me that I have neither the time nor the ambition to keep up with the blog every day, so I will instead post shorter summaries that span more time.
We’ve been spending a lot of time in the classroom getting a crash course on the British political system and the various contemporary questions that are in vogue in the halls of Westminster. We’ve reviewed the bases of power within the system and how they relate to one another – the uncodified constitution (if another Brit tells me they actually do have a constitution I might lose it), the Crown, the House of Commons, and the House of Lords. Of course, each of these institutions has their peculiarities, of which we’ve barely scratched the surface. I won’t bore you with the intricacies of a system I barely know.
We finally received our internship placements this week. Most of us came here for the internship and not the studying (I can take a class in British politics in the states if I want…), so most of us have been extremely curious about where we will be interning since we were accepted to the program. So, it was with great trepidation that I took my sealed envelope and began to open it. I had been hoping to get a placement with someone who is involved in foreign or defense affairs since this is my background and interests. I was understandably disappointed when I read that my placement was in a party office with Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party (especially since part of my preparation for coming to the UK was exploring the wide variety of jokes at the expense of the Welsh). I felt a bit dejected, though I resigned myself to doing the best I could. I was especially irked that I would not be starting my internship until June 7th, a full twenty days after I found out where I would be working. In the meantime the Party wanted me to research the relationship between the Welsh Assembly and Parliament, focusing on the devolution of authority.
I spent most of that afternoon in a funk. I started down a negativity spiral and began questioning why I had spent an exorbitant amount of money to come to London when so many things were uncertain. I was really brooding at times (as I have a tendency to do after returning from Iraq). But, as I said, I resigned myself to doing a good job. The more I thought about it, the more I began to see the placement as an opportunity and a positive thing. The issue of devolution is a huge debate, and even though Plaid Cymru only has 3 MPs (out of 650 in Parliament), that is two more MPs that my cohorts are working with. I won’t have as close a working relationship with them, but I will have a different perspective in terms of getting involved in party politics as well as the issues the individual MPs are involved with. My only fear at this point is that I am working with Welshmen, and their accent is particularly atrocious.
Wednesday evening we went to a show on the West End – the theatre capital of Europe. We took in the 7:30 show of Billy Elliot, which has been on the West End for five years and plays on Broadway as well. It was a fantastic show. I’m not really one for musical theater, but I did get wrapped up in the story line and enjoyed how technically proficient a thirteen-year-old ballet dancer can be.
Thursday afternoon we took a trip to Westminster for a tour of the Parliamentary Archives, followed by a walking tour of the area. The archive tour is amazing, especially if you are a history geek like me. The Victoria Tower (which is opposite Big Ben in the Palace of Westminster) holds a variety of official government documents spanning several hundred years, including most of the original copies of the acts of Parliament. At one point we stood in a climate-controlled room with over 65,000 of these acts, which in their original form are written on parchment and stitched together to great giant scrolls. It was an impressive collection to say the least. Most impressive for this American was the original copy of the Declaration of Independence, signed by most of the Founding Fathers, which was sent to King George and Parliament. Unlike the copy in America that is protected by bulletproof glass and a fully armed-security contingent, this copy is simply stored in a folder in a locked room. The guide allowed us to pick up and page through the document, at which point I truly geeked out.
And that catches you up on my life in London. I had a short chat with Gary on the night that we found out our placements in which he related his feelings of the Welsh (they’re Irishmen who couldn’t swim). We had a great discussion on the pub culture in London and some of the economics of pub ownership in England. It’s a fascinating system that I will try to relate later.