Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Value of Failure

Sometimes, failed quests are the most fun because while you may fall short of your objectives, you can draw some interesting conclusions from those failures and learn things you didn’t expect.
This morning started out easy enough: We visited the Churchill War Rooms, one of my favorite museums and—often—a favorite of my students as well. Churchill is simply a larger than life figure who, while well-known for his successful leadership in Britain’s darkest hour, actually had a career full of failures. Churchill went to South Africa to cover the Boer War and was captured. He recommended the bold and daring Dardanelles campaign while at the Admiralty, and its spectacular collapse and the great loss of life led to his resignation from the Cabinet. Churchill wrongly bet against the government in the abdication crisis, supporting King Edward. By the mid-1930s, Churchill was in the political wilderness and ignored by the public and the government when he repeatedly rang the alarm about Hitler’s designs on Europe. But it was because he was in the wilderness, because he had failed and been ostracized for his failures, that Churchill was exactly the man to come to the rescue when everyone else had lost public credibility for appeasing Hitler. Churchill’s failures paved the path for him to become Prime Minister when Britain needed him and his abilities the most.

Keeping the importance of failure in mind, this afternoon was an epic series of failures. My co-leader, Doralyn and I, led a group of three students to the Red Lion—a pub near the Parliament Square with a division bell signaling MPs when their presence was required to cast a vote—for lunch. The pub was jammed with people and the wait interminable. So we went elsewhere to eat before heading out on our next mission: To procure campaign signs, placard, T-shirts, and the like from the three major parties contesting the election in England (I say England as the other parties from whom we wanted campaign materials do not contest seats in English constituencies). 

We first went to Labour’s national headquarters, on Victoria Street. After some difficulty finding the precise location of the headquarters, we were turned away with nothing to show for our efforts. The national party, we were informed, is not a public office; an appointment was required. We did call an information number and were told that the constituency or regional campaign headquarters would likely help us out. As we were going to be campaigning in Hampstead and Kilburn on Wednesday and Thursday, we figured we be able to get Labour and Conservative materials then.

We were not, however, going to campaign for the Liberal Democrats. After locating the Liberal Dems headquarters in Hampstead and Kilburn, we walked to Victoria Station, hoped on the Victoria Line and headed north. 

(SIDE NOTE: The Evening Standard's front page for the day was fantastic. "Comrade Corbyn Flies the Red Flag"--the paper was readily available for free around Victoria Station)

After one stop, we switched to the Jubilee line for a twenty five minute ride to West Hampstead Station. Then, a five minute walk to Liberal Democrats HQ—and we’d have our campaign goods, right?

I just...want...some signs...and T-shirts.

Wrong. We found a derelict office space looking worse for wear on the lowest level of what looked to be a mixed-use council estate. There was no apparent way to get to the office space plastered with Liberal Democrat placards, however. We walked through the building, around the building, and back until we finally found the entrance: A gated garage with a coded keypad. There was no other way into the office space, and no phone number was listed on the website from which to contact anyone who may have been working diligently for the Liberal Democratic cause in Hampstead and Kilburn. Perhaps this was a sign of the lack of Liberal Democrat effort in the constituency; indeed, in 2015 the Liberal Democrats received less than six percent of the vote (a loss of nearly 27 percentage points from 2010). Given the constituency voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, the lack of interest in contesting Hampstead and Kilburn is somewhat surprising. 

What is even more surprising, however, is the difficulty we faced simply trying to get electioneering materials. True, I’m not convinced had we stopped by the DNC or RNC in Washington that we would have been greeted with open arms and given copious amounts of buttons, pins, shirts, and brochures. But surely a constituency campaign office, heading the local campaign efforts, would have been easily accessible to the public during a campaign with a vote taking place in less than four weeks?
In any case, on the thirty minute Tube journey back to the hotel, I reflected not on our misfortunes, but on our adventure. We visited parts of London tourists usually don’t see. We laughed together and simply enjoyed the camaraderie shared by adventurers on a great quest. And, it allowed us to make some political observations aiding us in our understanding of British politics generally and the current play of the race both broadly and in Hampstead and Kilburn in particular.

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