Trust: the firm belief that someone is good and honest and will not harm you.

‘Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships’ - Stephen Covey, American educator.

Do you trust politicians? When Krishnan Guru-Murthy asked the question to the audience of floating voters at the first Tory leadership debate on Channel 4, no one put their hand up. Circumstantial? Possibly given the recent spate of lies, sex scandals and corruption to infect the Tories. Even so I found the scene disturbing.

There is clear evidence that political trust has declined over time in the UK, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in its December 2021 report ‘Trust Issues’. In 1944 one in three people saw politicians as ‘out for themselves’. Today two thirds of people share this view. The report concludes that distrust in politics has become the norm.

The report notes also that those who feel more Scottish or Welsh than British are less satisfied with the state of democracy in the UK.

The National Wales: The famous Brexit bus. Photo: PAThe famous Brexit bus. Photo: PA

That’s bad, right? Not necessarily. Think Dominic Cummings, the big red Brexit bus and the even bigger £350 million lie emblazoned on the side. No attempt by Cummings or Johnson to defend the lie either. Cummings’ conclusion? That the slogan was a ‘brilliant communications ploy’. He was right. Brexit was carried. Johnson won a landslide. 

This is ‘strategic lying’ at its best. ‘It doesn’t matter if the lies are easily rebutted because the ultimate aim of strategic lying is to impact the salience of issues’, argues Ivor Gaber, Professor of Journalism at the University of Sussex, in a 2021 study ‘Strategic Lies: deliberate untruths used as a political tactic.’ 

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Gaber shows how the slogan on the bus found ‘sympathetic ears because the lie fitted with their world view’.

As for the remainers, the more we argued against the slogan, the more we inadvertently broadcast it.

And as Goebbels pointed out: lies become truth by repetition. 

And as trust in politicians disappears, so does truth, opening the door to dishonest, undemocratic forces, which include elements of the media. This, in turn, fuels further apathy among the electorate, lower turnouts at elections and less scrutiny of those in power.

Less scrutiny means more opportunities to abuse power. And so it goes on until we end logically in totalitarianism; trust obliterated.

Once trust has gone there’s no way back. At least that’s my experience when it comes to personal relationships. Fortunately political trust is different. It can be restored.

The IPPR report points to the importance of both the performance of government and the process of government. Delivering manifesto promises, tackling inequality, improving public services and raising living standards will engender trust.

The more difficult task for government and, by extension, for all political parties is reform to the processes by which decisions are made. Rooting out corruption, having a voting system based on proportional representation and the extent to which different groups in society get their voices heard are just as crucial as economic outputs. 

Dishonest individuals will always attempt to subvert democracy for their own ends. Our job, as progressives, is to expose them for what they are without fear or favour.

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