Yesterday, the students in Merton showed the way for their younger ORA colleagues taking part in a debate on the future of democracy. The six Politics and International Relations students travelled to London to spend time at the Houses of Parliament, the historical and present heart of British democracy.
The Houses –or the Palace of Westminster, as it is more formally known— has survived a great deal: civil wars, gunpowder plots, fires, and the Blitz, to name a few of its past threats. Its architecture has changed with its various damages, and it is in its present form an elaborate Gothic structure by which some of the students were rather taken aback.
The students’ guide, Keith, was very knowledgeable and clearly cared a great deal about his subject. He answered questions with easy aplomb, and during his tour of the Palace even managed to fit in a glimpse of the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow.
After a brief lunch, students regathered outside the Supreme Court, where students were shown round the main courtrooms and even had the chance to sit in the seats of the Justices, which are far more modern and comfortable than one would expect in such an old building. The students were able to have many of their most pressing questions about the Supreme Court and the justice system answered, and took the opportunity to engage in some debating of their own amongst themselves.
The day was not over when they left the Court: the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands beckoned. In the embassy, students discussed the day-to-day running of an embassy with Gabrielle, the Second Secretary and also shared some of the history of The Netherlands.
With desire for knowledge as close to sated as it could be, and with a day of exploring historic sights and interesting ideas now behind them, students split up in the evening to explore London on their own terms, before heading back to Oxford tired but full of new ideas. Other students in Merton visited the London Stock Exchange -where one, very impressively, won a bottle of champagne for correctly guessing the fluctuating share price at a precise time- and stayed in Oxford to take part in a series of well-prepared TED-style talks. A fantastic, and productive, day was had by all.