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US Ambassador to the UK Matthew Barzun visits Long Road

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Mr Matthew Barzun, US Ambassador to the UK, visited Long Road this morning to talk to Politics and History students. The visit was part of a regular programme which enables the Ambassador to engage with younger people and listen to their views of international and domestic US policy. To date he has visited 110 schools and sixth form colleges.

The event started with an interactive powerpoint during which students could vote on different topics. For example, 73% said they would like to work or study in the United States – but 93% thought that the UK treats minority groups better than the US does, and 100% said that they would rather face a medical emergency in the UK! Mr Barzun commented that health professionals in the US are legally and ethically required to treat all emergencies equally – and that ‘Obamacare’ has been set up to provide medical care for non-insured people in post- or non-emergency situations.

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US medal-winner Lucy Duckworth

Mr Barzun was very interested by our student’s choice of the most important international challenge facing the world today. They voted 37% for climate change – the first school / college to put this in first place – although the visit did take place during the Paris Climate Summit.

Students were asked about US and UK involvement in world problems. 47% thought that the US was too involved, whereas 67% thought that the UK was not involved enough. Nevertheless, the US Navy was the top choice of rescue vessel provider (not including the UK) in a humanitarian crisis.

Students then wrote down what most frustrated or annoyed them about the US. Responses included corporate lobbying, gun law, excess US involvement in world affairs, the federal system in relation to the death penalty, police violence and the handling of the Syrian crisis. Mr Barzun used comments relating to international relations to draw up a quadrant with ‘hands off / hands on/ on the X axis and ‘helps situation / doesn’t help’ on the Y axis. Students suggested what might go in each box. For example, US involvement in WW2 helped whereas the ‘hands on’ approach in Vietnam did not. A hands off / did not help situation was the genocide in Rwanda.

Mr Barzun commented that the US ‘hands on’ policies worked best when they used a range of tools – not just military options, but also aid, political pressure, diplomacy and sanctions. He gave as examples of international multi-tool co-operation the Marshall Plan and the rebuilding of not just Allied countries but also Germany and Japan after the Second World War, and the work carried out with the UK to battle Ebola in West Africa.

Concerning domestic policies, Mr Barzun discussed gun control with relation to the US constitution and explained how the right to bear arms was originally linked to the existence of a militia, rather than as one of the ‘five freedoms’. He did point out that there were now restrictions on gun ownership. He also talked about the progress made since the original constitution was drawn up, from the 1780s when only white, male landowners were allowed to vote, to the modern day and the rights of LGBT members.

To round off the event, Mr Barzun asked students what they liked about the US – this included Barack Obama, the country’s vision, the fact that the US is our ally and the freedom its citizens enjoy.

Finally, Mr Barzun awarded a US medal to Lucy Duckworth, whom was one of two students nominated by the Politics department for her commitment to and achievement in A level Politics. The other winner, Weronika Kurzynska, was unable to attend.

Christine Sherwin, Principal of Long Road Sixth Form College, says: “This was a unique opportunity for our Politics and History students to make direct contact with a member of the United States’ administration. To receive a visit from, and be able to converse with, the US Ambassador to the UK was an immense privilege, and one which I am sure they will never forget.  We are extremely grateful to the US Embassy for making possible this informative, stimulating and thought-provoking event.”