‘Oooo, Jer-emy Cor-byn. Oooo, Jer-emy Cor-byn,’ the cult-esque chant goes as we walk past. I’m marching with the LGBTories in the Manchester Pride parade, and just like the previous month in London—where there were calls to ban the group—we are not receiving the most gracious welcome. I have just submitted my Masters dissertation, completing my study at the London School of Economics, and I’ve got a whirlwind few weeks ahead before heading home.
Living in London has given me a front row seat in some of the most extraordinary political moments in British history. The mood, particularly following Theresa May’s act of political seppuku in June, is toxic. Both sides of politics are fighting about who can be more interventionist, the chattering classes show more sympathy for Brussels than Westminster in the Brexit negotiations, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is ahead and edging ever closer to Number 10.
On the way to the Manchester march we pass two stalls. The first, an unwelcoming anti-Conservative table; so much for diversity and tolerance. The second, an ‘LGBTI Against Isamophobia’ group. It’s a curious contrast to ‘Ex-Muslims Against Homophobia’, who marched in London Pride, waving signs listing Islamic countries where homosexuality is illegal. East London Mosque, which has a history of homophobic speakers, called for the Ex-Muslims to be banned from future marches for ‘inciting hatred’.
Earlier that morning, a suspect was arrested under Britain’s terror laws for attempting to ram his car into a police vehicle at Buckingham Palace. The normalisation of such attacks is frightening. It’s not even the first item in the Times news app, it’s number four. In Brussels that evening, police shoot dead a man who ran at them with a knife, and a few weeks later a bomb detonates on the Tube, injuring a dozen passengers.
After a weekend in Manchester, I board a disgustingly early Ryan Air flight to Zurich. Switzerland is what one would expect: prosperous, quiet, and expensive. Switzerland’s relentless neutrality — and slight paranoia — shows off. I’m told their latest worry is an invasion to steal water – if it were ever necessary, wouldn’t it be cheaper to just buy it?
After a delightful few days, and a strenuous hike, Amsterdam is next. It’s raining, busy and full of tourists. I pass a TV crew interviewing people walking into a ‘COFFEEHOUSE’, and the smell of cannabis carries through the streets. The Anne Frank house is horrifying, but I keep thinking her story is just one of the 160,000 Dutch deportees to Nazi death camps, and 6 million Jewish victims.
I’m back to London, and a frustrating two hours waiting in the Heathrow immigration line (post-Brexit Commonwealth line please), for my birthday and goodbyes. After packing up my belongings I begin the journey home, the long way via the United States.
First stop, Washington, DC. I have always admired America’s strong sense of self. This is again epitomised by the plethora of American flags on buildings on the way from the airport. I’m based in the gentrifying Northwest in DC. A friend takes me to a delightful hipster café. Hanging on the wall is a Black Lives Matter sign, sitting above a poster that says ‘America is black; native; hijab; Spanish speaking; migrant; queer; woman’. The poster doesn’t mention that Americans are also white. This is ironic for a café where almost all the customers are white in the predominantly black city.
Despite the apocalyptic claims about the Trump presidency, there is some good behind the scenes. I spend my time in DC meeting with a dozen conservative and libertarian organisations who are optimistic about fixing the administrative state, state-level activity, and tax reform. Trump has appointed reformers to cabinet who are working relentlessly to undo Obama’s red tape legacy, and the speed of regulatory growth has already dramatically slowed.
I spend an afternoon in Philadelphia meeting the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), who have spent two decades fighting for constitutionally-protected free speech at universities. The latest threat has, nevertheless, taken them by surprise: the use of violence to shut down speech. The day we meet, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro is speaking at UC Berkeley, which had to spend US$600,000 on security to protect against Antifa thugs. The event went off largely without a hitch. However, it will provide an excuse for other colleges, who lack deep pockets, to cancel speakers in future. My last stop is energetic New York and a long Qantas flight back home.
Clive James, in an interview with John Howard last year, said that he ‘had to go away [from Australia] to get the viewpoint’ for his work. Looking at Australia from afar provides perspective. We are often led to believe the grass is greener on the other side, the cultural cringe reverberates. If I’ve learnt anything in my year away it’s that this is unwarranted. We live in a democratic and free society, have an extraordinary quality of life, and are the envy of the world. British author Douglas Murray writes about how Europe lacks identity, direction and confidence. Australia is susceptible to this disease as well, but we are not there yet. I arrive back in Melbourne exhausted, yet optimistic about the future.