MSc student Vitor Xavier reflects on the MSc programme tours of the Houses of Parliament, which took place in November and December 2017.
As a child, I read the classic One hundred days between the sky and the Sea [Cem dias entre Céu e Mar], from the Brazilian writer and explorer Amyr Klink. The book is an adaptation of the logbook of his great adventure: crossing the South Atlantic Ocean rowing from Luderitz, Namibia, to Brazil. The plot is engaging. Alone in his boat in the Atlantic he managed to overcome a variety of challenges that ranged from whales surrounding the boat to sea storms. The evolving narrative makes us wonder if the human condition could be limitless when the subject is focused on his goals and determined to reach them. In one interesting note, “after 100 days of solo rowing, Klink dropped anchor near the northeast Brazilian city of Salvador. A man in a nearby boat asked him how the fishing had been. “I didn’t get anything,” Klink answered. “Oh well. That’s life,” said the man. “Some days you get everything, other days you get nothing. It’s like the tide: It goes out, but always comes back“.
On the 28 November 2017, whilst attending the tour of the Houses of Parliament hosted by the LSE Department of Government, somehow Klink’s stories came to my mind. Like Klink’s focused mind, this Country relies on a Parliament committed to its guiding principles and objectives ever since the promulgation of the Magna Carta in 1215. While Klink projected his energy into the maintenance of the trajectory towards the port, the UK Parliament symbolises the persistence of this country in the search for self-government, accountability and the exercise of citizenship.
From the Royal throne to the Battle of Waterloo picture and to the statues of Edmund Burke and Margaret Thatcher, the Parliament building itself provides various references to the country’s glorious past and to the relevant actors and events enriching its history. By paying tribute to the past and valuing the traditional, Parliament’s decoration provides a sense of stability and continuity for the visitors. The building shines as an example for the entire world’s most recent liberal democracies. Like Klink’s adventure, the political history represented at the Palace of Westminster is a testament to the human capacity to overcome challenges.
Of all the spaces we visited Westminster Hall, where we took the photo above, was the most symbolic for me. The astonishing hammer-beam roof of the Westminster Hall, being the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe, makes a reference to the navy past of the United Kingdom. The work to build the roof “was largely undertaken by the King’s chief mason Henry Yevele and the carpenter Hugh Herland”, the latter whom “designed great oak beams to serve as horizontal supports fixed to the walls”. Such a beautiful masterpiece of design survived the bombings to London during the Second World War and remains as a symbol of the principles and aspirations of Great Britain.
On another note, the former US President Barack Obama, when addressing Parliament under the hammer-beam roof during a State visit to the United Kingdom, captured the feeling I had when I first stood under the hammer-bean roof at the Westminster Hall: “It was here, in this very hall, where the rule of law first developed, courts were established, disputes were settled, and citizens came to petition their leaders. Over time, the people of this nation waged a long and sometimes bloody struggle to expand and secure their freedom from the crown. Propelled by the ideals of the Enlightenment, they would ultimately forge an English Bill of Rights, and invest the power to govern in an elected parliament that’s gathered here today”.
Just like the hammer-beam roof, every part of the Houses of Parliament has an outstanding history behind it. One conclusion I reached after attending the tour is that visiting the Parliament is not just about paying tribute to the past. It is, also, deepening the understanding that Democracy is the only option to overcome the troubled waters of social conflict and arrive at the next safe port where prosperity and stability can be achieved. Just like the Klink’s concentrated mind was crucial to the explorer’s solitary crusade of the Atlantic Ocean, the commitment to democratic principles that can be felt permeating throughout the UK Parliament’s corridors has proven crucial to the success of this country. Do not miss the chance to attend a tour and enjoy such an exhilarating experience!
Vitor Xavier holds a bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from the University of Brasilia (UnB) and is pursuing a master’s degree in Regulation at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His research interests lie in the supervision of Insurance and in the source of alternatives to the globalisation of Social Impact Bonds (SIB’s). He seeks to find a sustainable path for the development of Brazil.
Note: this article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Department of Government, nor of the London School of Economics.