I haven’t yet met a princess or prince, but I do see the Queen everywhere; her face is on all the money. Her portrait even appears on the stamps I use to send postcards. I once got lost while cycling through London and only recognized where I was once I arrived at her home. Most of the major landmarks in London have some sort of political origin. Big Ben is part of the Houses of Parliament, where the legislative body convenes. Coronations and the royal weddings take place and are memorialized at Westminster Abbey. The changing of the guard ceremony takes place outside the Queens official residence, BuckinghamPalace, and from the London Eye you can look out over all of the politically significant historical sites.
Even though the history of Britain and it’s landmarks focuses on the monarchy, anthemic renditions of “God Save the Queen” are sung as the national anthem at most sporting events here, and, as highlighted by her recent trip to Australia, the Queen is still head of state of many parts of a once massive and imperialistic empire, the dregs of monarchy that persist are not of day to day consequence.
The government officials that youth protested against this summer during the London riots were the democratically elected representatives and their appointees, not the monarch. They were angered by police compliance in phone hacking by the press among a mirage of other issues, some of which are relevant to me as a student; tuition rates and other fees were increased as the government tightened their belts in reaction to the economic crisis. As the Arab Spring makes a return waft, the Occupy London protestors don’t make mention of tearing down the monarchy either. Since people are concerned with where power for immediate action lies, it’s the Prime Minister and Parliament that people resent during difficult times. As a figure head, the Queen only has diplomacy and negotiation as tools for influence. The royal family’s significance lies primarily in upheld heritage and tradition. The monarch works as a sort of symbol. They have faith in their country and fate. So if the monarch persists, “England prevails.” Maybe, that sense of long term linage surviving is why the royal wedding of Prince William captivated such a large television viewership and street presence earlier this year. That’s the main difference between the politics here and in the States. Our younger nation has a tradition of independence and pride in the land of the free, while the United Kingdom’s traditions result from their own unique beginnings.
As President Obama highlighted in his historic speech before Parliament this May, we do share a lot. The US and UK relationship is interesting. According to the ever changing terminology, we have an “essential relationship” and a bond as “the nations most willing to stand up for the values of tolerance and self-determination that lead to peace and dignity.” So it deemed important that in order to cooperate, we work together and reach an understanding among each other. Studying here is helping me understand more about this country as well as provide me the opportunity to discuss the reality in the States with my classmates. Since I’ve been here, I’ve become increasingly aware that movies, news, and television impart an image of America, New York especially, as a “country replete with well-to-do people with no particular concerns for the future, a country seen from the outside as a utopia to be desired with heart and soul, a land of opportunities for those who felt they were denied the same in their own countries” which is how Ismail Salami described the depiction the ninety-nine percent movement hopes to deflate.
The news tends to only report the theatrical and eccentric. So I wonder whether or not youth here are actually politically active or if the riots were a fluke swift uprising. I’ve been asked to comment on my encounters with the political active students I have met at university. And you know what? I haven’t made the acquaintance of any. The only engaged voter I’ve encountered here is the Green Party supporter who frequently raises his hand in my Environment course. Maybe it’s the drinking age. Maybe they don’t feel a sense of control. Maybe they feel disaffected as many American youths do. Perhaps, they’re just relatively content and therefore only stirrup when caught in movements like the riots that hit London a month before I did. I’m bloody close to where those were, but I never hear any of the British students mention anything about them or their purpose. Although student organizations exist on campus, they don’t have many members. The only time I’ve ever heard any conversation about how the Labour is dealing with being in the Opposition or how the Lib Dems are doing in Coalition with the Conservatives is from my friend Bill who lives in Delaware and happens to major in political science. Hence, I don’t yet have a real sense of what future the British will demand of their politicians, of their relationship with the US, and of their role in global politics.