Lessons in trust
by ALBERT BRANDFORDI do not trust Governments either of my own persuasion or of the other political persuasion when they say, Trust me’. – Iain Duncan Smith, House of Commons Debates, March 3, 2008.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH, is a former leader of the British Conservative Party, and has just been appointed Works and Pensions Secretary (Minister) in the “extraordinary pact” that is the coalition government between his party and thecentre-left Liberal Democrats.Since governments are made up of politicians, Smith might well have said: “I do not trust [politicians] either of my own persuasion or of the other political persuasion . . . .” Two political events of the past few weeks have again given rise to the question of people’s trust in politicians: that Tory-Lib Dem coalition, which one British commentator was moved to describe as “the quickest marriage in political history”; and locally, Hamilton Lashley’s formal return to the fold of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) which he had left in Opposition during 1999.“I am identifying with a cause,” Lashley, still an Independent, told the House of Assembly early in its postprandial session on Tuesday, March 4, “because if you cannot stand for something you will fall for anything.“I am, with your [the Speaker’s] permission,of course, now leaving this position as an Independent Member of this honourable chamber, to stand on the side of the Government and the people whoI represent.”Earlier, the St Michael South East MP had said he was fixed in his convictions and as such had taken a decision to continue the legacy of his cause “to always stand with the downtrodden and those who must always have a voice in a sacred place like this”.Political grasshopper“And, Sir, that voice can only be echoed from a position that validates the rights of those same people to be heard.”While acknowledging that some people may see him as a political grasshopper, a traitor or even a double-crosser, Lashley said his purpose in the House has never been about self-aggrandisement; rather, it was about improving the lot of his constituents, especially the youth, single mothers of large householdsand the elderly.Additionally, he was planning to work with the Government in a number of innovative programmes to develop self-employment opportunities. Now, Britain’s new Prime Minister David Cameron, who on a good day would not even give Nick Clegg – his deputy prime minister – the time of day, has been explaining why the Lib Dem leader is his new best friend.“I came into politics,” said Cameron, the youngest British prime minister since Lord Liverpool (42) in 1812, “because I love this country, I think its best days still lie ahead and I believe deeply in public service.Sounds like Hammie-la yet?“Nick Clegg and I are both political leaders who want to put aside party differences and work hard for the common good and for the national interest. I believe that is the best way to get the strong Government we need.“We are announcing a new politics – where the national interest is more important than the party interest, where co-operation wins out over confrontation, where compromise, give and take, reasonable, civilised, grown-up behaviour is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.”Not to be left out, Clegg added: “This is a new government and a new kind of government. Until today we have been rivals. Now we are colleagues.”How were these two 43-year-old bitter rivals so easily reconciled? Was it because Gordon Brown and Labour were so evil? Or was it simply that the “rivals” would do anything to “grasp the brass ring”? Did the British voters get what they voted for? Were their desires thwarted by a coalition of power hungry politicians who thought the voters could not be trusted to know what they wanted?Discredited and distrustedLook at a new study from Britain on the public trust and expectations of politicians and parliament in the wake of the recent expenses scandal.It noted that politicians have been rarely trusted, and research from the 1970s found that 60 per cent of the public believed people involved in politics only told the truth some of the time.The study was conducted by the Hansard Society, the Political Studies Association and Centre for Citizenship, Globalisation and Governance.The report, authored by Dr Ruth Fox, of the Hansard Society, observed that in the political context, trust was conventionally viewed as essential to maintaining and strengthening the bond – the ‘democratic chain of command’ – between the elected and electors, “which underpins political consent in our democratic system and enables politicians to take difficult public policy decisions”.“In so far as politicians and Parliament are discredited and distrusted, then, so it follows, it willbe exponentially more difficult to take big, far-reaching and potentially unpopular decisions.“Trust is deemed essential because it breeds legitimacy and therefore facilitates a greater willingness among the public to abide by the decisions made by politicians.”The report noted that the 2007 Eurobarometer Survey of public attitudes found that only 34 per cent of the British public trusted Parliament, and the Committee On Standards In Public Life has consistently found in its biennial Trust In Public Life surveys that politicians were “among the least trusted of professions when it comes to telling the truth”.“Parliament was deemed to embody the traits of sly, greedy and deceitful creatures such as rats, weasels, snakes, foxes and vultures.”The report said perceptions of trust were rooted in public views of the truthfulness and honesty of their representatives.“But the public’s concept of trust is more complex than this alone: reflecting perhaps elements of how they determine levels of satisfaction with their elected representatives, the trust concept also appears to embrace a broader framework which includes perceptions of a representative’s competence, hard work, and local community commitment as well.“The public significantly value honesty over hardwork and political success but may be willing to trade on this occasion.”