Hopping across the pond with a group of fellow Georgetown students, the #HoyasInUK were afforded the extraordinary opportunity to experience British politics at all levels and from every angle. From man-on-the-street interviews to speaking with seasoned politicians, we took in the 2017 snap election from a variety of perspectives, all while experiencing a taste of life within the historically and culturally-rich city of London. During our time there, we got to know the city quite literally from top to bottom, taking in the view from the London Eye before visiting the underground Churchill War Rooms, and of course exploring everything in between.
Our first introduction to British political attitudes occurred before we even left American soil, as a passionate Labour Party voter made his case to us in Dulles Airport and exposed us to one major difference between U.S. and UK voters, which would become a common theme during our trip. Contrary to the American tendency to campaign and vote based on personality and other characteristics unique to a particular candidate, the British put more emphasis on official party platforms and vote in accordance with whichever party they identify with, often regardless of which candidate has been chosen for Prime Minister. This defining aspect of British politics affects every aspect of their campaigns, demanding that attention and resources be allocated differently than they are here in the U.S.
Once in London, we met with journalists, embassy officials, campaign strategists, pollsters, analysts, and members of parliament. Though they each had something unique to share with us, a common thread ran through most of our conversations: The vast majority of British citizens expected Theresa May to win the election. The concept of a hung parliament was briefly mentioned from time to time as a quirky potential outcome arising from the structure of the British political system, but no more than a fringe possibility. This election was to be little more than a formal guarantee May’s continued position at the helm before everyone carried on with business as usual.
When I sat with the other #HoyasInUK to watch the exit poll results reveal an outcome few had considered to be within the realm of possibility, the mood that set in had an unshakeable familiarity. At that moment, seeing a fairly confident incumbent party miss a widely expected and poll-predicted victory, memories of November 9th, 2016 in the United States came rushing back. While the blow came more softly the second time around, it significantly impacted the way I understand the era of political unpredictability and uncertainty in which we are living. Spreading vastly on an international scale and bringing to the surface a sense of division and unrest, the tumultuous political climate which has become so apparent in the United States seemed to have cemented its presence in Europe one step further. While the Brexit vote had been taken to indicate a reinvigorated nationalism and a populace anxious to assert their cultural and political independence, the general election reflected a Britain unsure of its identity and path forward. The significance of this election, not only for the UK government but within the context of movements and elections over the past year, from the United States to France, seemed to have radically changed in an instant. Since returning home, I am curious to see what lies ahead for the UK, as well as how trends in international politics will continue to develop as a result of and in relation to the snap election.
As I look back on my experience in the UK, I am so grateful to have been able to experience international politics and British history and culture in a way that would not have been possible otherwise, as well as gain a deeper understanding of the important relationship between the U.S. and the UK. I would like to thank the SFS and GU Politics for opening the door to such a transformative and unforgettable experience. There is nothing quite like experiencing firsthand places you’ve previously only known through photographs and books, and I’m sure I will carry the knowledge and insights I have gained from this trip through the rest of my Georgetown career and into the future.