As a seat of higher learning for centuries, The University of Cambridge has been a breeding ground of ideas since the 13th century. A place where ideas have been developed, analysed, taught, and debated by some of the best minds in human history, today Cambridge served as our site to learn more about the constitutional and political situation of the United Kingdom.
Today we proved an exception to the late-rising student stereotype and arose early in the morning to catch a train from King’s Cross Station direct to Cambridge. After a short coach ride from the train station to our classroom for the day, we met our first presenter Dr Stephanie Palmer who gave us a detailed, informed, and enlightening talk on the way in which the UK’s decentralised constitutional arrangement operates with particular reference to the UK’s human rights obligations in the light of both domestic and international law.
Stephanie particularly focused on the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights, the role and function of the European Court of Human Rights, and how the UK’s political and legal systems have functioned in the context of its Human Rights Act that was introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 1998. Stephanie also covered the position of the incumbent Conservative government led by Prime Minister David Cameron in regards to its dissatisfaction with the Human Rights Act and its intention to introduce a new British Bill of Rights if it were to win the upcoming election in order to bring more power back to the UK parliament.
Following Dr Stephanie Palmer’s talk, the broke group for lunch at a few of the cafes nearby on campus and then were given a talk by Dr Ben Griffin on the changing role of political leaders in the UK’s political climate. Ben gave a very lively and entertaining talk on the gendered game of politics in regards to how different constructions of femininity and masculinity influence the behaviour and public perception of UK political leaders. Ben also covered the conflicting maze of ideals which political leaders must navigate to win positive public perception, including the battle between technocratic and populist modes of political leadership. The increasingly difficult task of keeping party discipline and the members of one’s own political party on side in a period of sharp factionalisation was also highly interesting.
Overall, the study group made up of both law and politics students benefited greatly from learning such detailed and informed information about the UK’s legal system from Stephanie, and a historical political critique of political leadership from Ben. After the two talks, Clem led us on a scenic walking tour through the old town of Cambridge, his old stomping grounds as a PhD student. We saw the historical academic colleges of King’s College and Trinity College, and were able to soak in the sites of a town which has grown over centuries around the university. As students of law and politics, it was a real treat to be able to experience a town whose entire existence is historically dependent on the research and teaching which occurs at the university. Our enthusiasm for having the opportunity to experience learning in Cambridge was evident by the money spent by our group on Cambridge merchandise at the shop.
Tomorrow we have just one more wrap-up session with Clem and John at the University of Westminster before the study tour comes to an end. We will be sad to see our experience in London end, but will look back on our time in the UK capital as one of great learning, fun, and collegiality.