by Thomas Lambton 3rd December, 2019
1 min read

Does trust matter in politics?

Does the issue of trust matter in politics anymore? Is our endorsement of a political party or candidate dependent on attributing some degree of trust towards them? Or do emotive messages and idealistic policies override whether any of it will be implemented?

Consider the parallel worlds of business and consumerism. We engage with brands and products that we trust. We often work and form productive relationships with people we trust. Our networks are made of people we can trust.

In politics, this seems to be a secondary concern. On the campaign trail, the persistent and so far unanswerable question that has plagued Boris Johnson is ‘why should we trust you?’. Despite pointing to his record as London mayor, Johnson hasn’t provided a convincing answer. Yet still, the Conservatives hold a sizeable advantage in the polls and look set for a majority government.

This could be explained by the general public perception of the political class as being untrustworthy. Parliaments failure to deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum despite an overwhelming majority of MP’s being elected to do so is an easy place to start. But there is a wider malaise which set in during the first decade of the century. The blatant lies evoked to justify the Iraq war, and the abuse of privilege exposed by the MP’s expenses scandal have left permanent scars. It forms a damaging triumvirate whereby politicians cannot be trusted with our money, our soldiers, and our democracy.

Yet trust functions in odd ways. Take the position of the Liberal Democrats. It is remarkable how often their record in coalition government undermines their credibility. They were the minor party in this relationship but have shouldered a disproportionate level of public criticism, particularly on tuition fees. It left a legacy of distrust and prompted many in the electorate to conclude that the Liberal Democrats will only break their promises once in power. Tuition fees were the party’s contract with the British people. After it was broken, many will never take up a contract with them again. Both Labour and the Conservatives have broken countless other promises in government, yet none of them has had such a detrimental impact on their party.

So, as an electorate we are willing to both ignore instances of mistrust and simultaneously take lasting offence. Of course, this varies from one individual, group, or demographic to another but are there any rules we can establish?

Well perhaps it is this, given the collective assumption of the political class as being untrustworthy, individual instances of such behaviour are of limited significance. We would like to trust those we elect to represent us, but our ability to identify with their ideas and chime with their rhetoric is far more important.

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