by GK Strategy 18th November, 2013
3 min read

Who Do You Trust?

John F Kennedy once said that “mothers all want their sons to grow up to be president, but they don’t want them to become politicians in the process”.  In the UK today, it is not inconceivable that even the job of Prime Minister would likely rank low on maternal aspirations for their children.  The popular antagonism towards politicians, starting with the satire boom in the 1950s and more than adequately helped along with consistent misadventures by politicians through the decades, has left many to question whether there is any trust left in politics at all.

The most recent polling from YouGov’s Trust Tracker has shown that politicians are less trusted by the British public than family doctors, teachers, local police officers, broadcast journalists and trade union leaders. While Labour politicians fare slightly better than their Conservative and Lib Dem counterparts, none can be particularly proud that their integrity is seen greater only to that of red top tabloids and estate agents.

However, this distrust in an entire profession has not come about by chance.  The expenses scandal has arguably left trust in politicians plummeting to its lowest in modern times and shows no sign of fading in the public’s memory.  Indeed, the regular publication of each MP’s office and second home expenses relaxes fears of many a newspaper editor on what to fill their pages with.  The independent expenses watchdog, IPSA recently left many public sector workers choking on their austerity breakfast by recommending an 11% pay rise – arguing that the current salary of £60k prohibits people from poorer backgrounds from entering politics.  Whatever the reasons behind the proposal, the trust of the electorate is not exactly emboldened by the prospect of their MP voting – and they will still have to vote – for their wages to be raised at a time when the rest of the public sector are seeing their wages cut or constrained.

Russell Brand in his guest editorial for the New Statesman and subsequent interview with Jeremy Paxman illustrated the popularity of any rhetoric that includes a large helping of politician-bashing.  More striking however was the reaction to Brand’s general apathy towards UK democracy in general, which provoked large opposition from commentators across the political spectrum; ironically with the same kind of fervour they would usually save for the latest outrage conducted by a Member of Parliament.   In particular, comedian Robert Webb reacted by re-joining the Labour Party, accompanied with the suggestion that Brand read “some f**king Orwell”.

This prompts the question of whether trust in politicians actually matters to the general public.  It is not too controversial to argue that the public at large are not concerned with the lack of trust in politicians; in fact, it is almost expected.  A completely open and honest MP would probably spark more suspicion as to what their ulterior motives might be.  But while the veracity of their elected representative worries very few, the concerns are more widespread when there is a lack of trust in the system that chooses them and kicks them out.

Voter turnout is one such worry for the 2015 election, with even some calling for mandatory voting similar to Australia, where people are fined for not contributing to the ballot box.  With local, national and European elections due in the next two years along with a referendum in Scotland, the trust in democracy is likely to be tested.  However, the current political landscape suggests that more than most share Winston Churchill’s adage that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. But, then again, he was a politician.

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