Wherever I travel, I always ask locals about their country’s socio-economic issues and their politics. Sure, it might be subjective, but it’s a great way to learn about a country and understand things from another’s perspective. And, it makes for more interesting conversations!
So when I got to take a short trip to London last month, I was so excited to be visiting a country that’s in the middle of a crucial general election.
The United Kingdom has been in a strange limbo state for the past couple of years: Are they Brexiting or not? It seems to be an endless process of renegotiations and votes, and a mess that saw the resignation of 2 prime ministers. And since this general election was to decide if they would oust the third one, I was curious to see what some Londoners thought about it.
To my surprise, no one wanted to talk about “the B-word”. Brexit fatigue was such a serious issue, people didn’t even want to say the word itself and only referred to it as “the B-word” when I asked. Right after each of my attempts to start a conversation about it, they quickly moved on to another topic, subtlely and politely shutting down any other opportunity for the Brexit talk to continue. They would casually joke, mentioning Boris and “what would happen”, but you can tell there’s not much optimism.
It wasn’t just the locals I interacted with but also the overall atmosphere around the city: newspapers never had the words “Brexit” or “elections” in the headlines and no election signs promoting a candidate or a party. The only thing around the city alluding to Brexit was some ads on public transports trying to be edgy. You might almost forget that there was an election happening if you didn’t catch a glimpse of BBC news from time to time. It was the total opposite to what I saw during Canada’s general elections only a month before that.
Despite people avoiding the subject, I still learned a thing or two about Brexit and why it happened. On my first day, I went on a walking tour through the city with a historian. As he shared stories of how London grew and expanded over centuries, I noticed some recurring themes: the geographical class divide and the importance of sovereignty.
He explained part of the reason people voted for Brexit was because they felt that for such a long time, London was making decisions that benefitted the growth of the city alone whereas the rest of the country, especially rural areas, was left behind. As we crossed the bridge and arrived in Vauxhall, the jungle of multinational construction cranes can attest to that. So the people who see all this wealth but can’t enjoy it took back control of their country. They didn’t want to be governed by a European super-state based in Brussels.
But while Britain didn’t want Europe entrenching their politics, London, in particular, is culturally diverse because of economic deals as part of the EU. And, you can see this reflected in the food scene in the city.
Borough Market, the oldest food market in London, is now filled with international food stalls: Venezuelan arepas, Indian chickpea soups, Croatian olive oils and jams, French cheeses, Italian smoked sausages, Nepalese tea, etc.
And I wondered how Brexit could change this bustling food market and so many others across the city. Some businesses like the vegetable grocers, the butchers and fishmongers might not see the impact much as their supplies are sourced locally. But that’s only about one-third of the businesses operating in this market. For the rest, they would have to increase their prices because lower supplies due to tariffs on imported products.
No one is certain how things would go after the UK general elections, but hopefully, the world will find out by January 31, 2020.