I got the chance to tour the Parliament Building while I was in London. As it turns, an Ohio State alumnus works as a security officer and so offered my friends and I the opportunity to see the inside. As I explored Parliament, the grandeur of the art and monuments inside reminded me of the importance of the English form of democracy. Seeing all the paintings, statues, and plaques, I became reminded of the fact that Britain has always been a bastion of parliamentary democracy and that English Common Law was what laid the roots of the American system we abide by today. Such considerations garnered a sort of kinship with the English that I believe is a central aspect of the relationship between our two countries. With close ties like these, I feel as if the fate of the United States’ system of government is partially linked to that of England’s. Even when that system appears to be in crisis, perhaps the memory of what Britain stands for will serve as a rallying point for those reasonable enough to be civil about the UK’s most polarizing dilemma: Brexit.
As I listened to my guide, I concluded the current state of affairs in British Parliament is one wrought with just as much uncertainty as that of the United States. Rifts arise in current parties like UKIP, leading to the creation of new parties that only serve to accentuate the issue. MPs insult and shout at one another. Protests amass in the street daily regarding Brexit in Parliament Square. Amidst it all, Theresa May’s government is struggling to maintain power. As my tour guide said, Brexit has made the position of Prime Minister the most undesirable job in the world. With MPs becoming so angry that they are grabbing the ceremonial mace at the center of the floor and trying to hit one another with it, I understand how difficult it might be to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
On my first night in London, I found myself entering an attic in Camden, The Camden Comedy Club, and laughed as a comedian made many jokes and struggled to participate as she referenced politics I didn’t understand. By entering a new nation one enters a knew political and social climate. Suddenly, jokes were centered around the Royal Wedding and Brexit rather than Donald Trump and the Mexican border. The Royal Wedding was a massive buzz everywhere from Trafalgar Square to Kensington. Brexit was whispered around with weighted connotations about future implications for the British people. And yet, what I found most interesting was that these buzz words fluttered across the City of London in a similar manner as any breaking news story would around New York City. It was dealt with in posters, with humor, and with a marked desire for commercial gain. The Royal Wedding is a national celebration of an old English tradition of monarchy as well as capitalism. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s faces were plastered all over shiny mugs and magnets ready to be sold at a kiosk anywhere and everywhere. And while Brexit has serious implications as heavy as any deal Donald Trump is currently pulling out of in the United States, the British people, in their classic British manner reminiscent of Hitler jokes during the Blitz, cope through laughter.
As I watched political history unfold and new skyscrapers rise in London, I could not help but notice a simple fact. The British are not yet over World War II. A few months ago I asked an Englishman named Christopher if I could use the name Chris, and his knee jerk response was “sure sure, anything but Adolf, right?”. It seems that thousands of air raids cannot so easily be forgotten. While I expected to experience World War II memorabilia during our time at the Churchill War Rooms or Bletchley Park, I was not expecting to experience it in everything I did during my free time. Our comedian began making jokes about Winston Churchill and his handling of Dunkirk within twenty minutes of her set. From this moment on I knew, the Second World War was still fresh in English memory. Everywhere from the Tate museum to St. Pauls’ cathedral, plaques were posted commemorating fallen soldiers, and art was on display to celebrate the British strength in World War II. It seems indisputable to assume that, whatever the current political and social climate in the United Kingdom may be, modern London is a direct product of Second World War sufferings and efforts. If a comedian can connect Churchill to a recounting of her failed blind date, then it can transcend into the functioning of modern society from Parliament down to the individual Englishman.