Alexandra Lontos, Claire Wiebe, Kate Strachan, Sarah Mack and Petra Kovolos
Day two of the study tour saw us become more familiar with both each other, our teachers and the London tube. As the sun came out in London at a lovely 25 degrees, we were able to remove our bigger coats but the rest of the country did not cope so well as headlines warned of ‘sweltering heats’ and scares of tube derailment. The day was a great balance of classroom learning and cultural experience, as we had the opportunity to learn interactively throughout the day with an incredible guest lecturer and cultural political activities.
Our guest lecturer, Sarah Birch from the University of Glasgow, provided an insight into disaffection, non-voting, and protest voting in the context of the 2015 UK election. Sarah established why the 2015 election is unique, and discussed voting turnout inequalities and the cycle of disaffection and under-representation. The lecture highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of the Australian system of compulsory voting- although we enjoy high rates of turnout, we also experience widespread voter disaffection. Whether it was Sarah’s knowledge, the interesting content or the wonderful English accent… there was a multitude of questions lined up for her at the end of her lecture. She even noted that she wished her own students were as engaged as Australian ones (of course!).
Following the lecture, there was an opportunity to attend the Winston Churchill war rooms at the Imperial War Museum. After some selfies with Big Ben, we explored the depths of the war museum and the life of Winston Churchill, arguably the UK’s most famous and important Prime Minister. It was a comprehensive virtual tour (with some fancy walkie-talkies) and appropriate homage to the legacy of one of the UK’s most notable figures.
The next cultural activity for the day was a tour of the Palace of Westminster, otherwise known as the Houses of Parliament. We craned our necks in appreciation of the amazing high-rise architecture and were blinded by the beautiful ornamental gold detailing throughout the various rooms (which took 20 years to build!). Our amazing guide provided a wealth of knowledge about the Parliament and its colourful history, whilst simultaneously giving us an opportunity to experience the underpinnings of our study. A particular highlight was getting to stand in the House of Lords, where so many pieces of legislation important to both the UK and Australia were passed (us ‘commoners’ weren’t allowed to sit down, though). Unfortunately and most shockingly, the Queen did not make a special Parliamentary appearance to greet us.