Trust me, I’m a politician. How can we regain the trust we’ve lost?

I picked up Anthony Seldon’s book at Stretford library. It was published just as the MPs’ expenses scandal was peaking so perhaps a little out of date, but it got me interested in the latest figures which are summarised below:

  • 35% of the UK population stated that they trusted the national government, which is lower than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average (41%).
  • 42% of the population reported that they trusted local government and 55% trusted the Civil Service.
  • Trust in public services was higher than trust in the national or local governments, with the NHS the most trusted public service (80%), followed by the courts and legal system (68%).
  • 75% of the population believed that the UK government should place a higher priority on creating conditions for businesses to thrive, 64% said they should place higher priority on reducing climate change and 54% believe they should place higher priority on reducing the national debt.

Office of National Statistics – Trust in Government 2022

So, only 35% trust the national government and 42% trust their local council. I’ve seen some commentators conclude this is a plus for local government. I’m not so sure. By definition, councils are in your neighbourhood. A high proportion of a council’s services are universal; and even if we’re not receiving a particular service, it’s likely we know someone who is. Yet, 58% don’t trust their local council. I think that’s pretty bad.

It would be interesting to see how much councils trust their residents. Trust is generally seen to be a two-way process. If councils don’t trust their residents, it would perhaps give us a clue as to why trust has broken down.

It seems pretty obvious that neither the leadership of the Conservative Party nor of the Labour Party trusts their own members. As a constitutionally defined democratic socialist party that’s a bit of a problem for the Labour Party and one that we’ll have to tackle.

I think this breakdown in trust is dangerous. Other countries have not deteriorated to the extent that the UK has. We saw what happened with Brexit and more than anything, that had to be about trust.

Clearly, I have my own ideas, but firstly, I think we should be asking you. What needs to happen to restore trust in our democratic institutions?

I look forward to hearing from you



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4 responses to “Trust me, I’m a politician. How can we regain the trust we’ve lost?”

  1. John Stockdale avatar
    John Stockdale

    All parties, in power or not.
    The truth needs to be fact backed up by hard evidence, not a manufacturered plausibility brought about to suit an agenda. Let’s start there.

    1. Mike Cordingley avatar

      Agree to a point John. Sometimes a requirement for hard evidence means you never do anything. Take Stretford Town Centre, have we hard evidence it’ll be a success? I think it would be useful to know what success looks like, so I think we could improve that but it’s been through such consultation, hard evidence has been replaced by something else.

  2. Andrew Gould avatar
    Andrew Gould

    I guess if we are discussing trust and local Councils we are really talking about two sets of people i.e. Council Officers and Council Members.

    Let’s first have a look at Council Officers. The ‘trust’ question is do they do they work to bring about Council Policies or are they in some way working outside these policies. A really tricky ‘trust’ issue for me is what happens when an officer or delivery agent does not actually work for the council but for some outside service provider. Legally their responsibility is to the shareholders of the service provider. There is lots of scope here for the breakdown of ‘trust’ for example are our roads not getting swept because of lack of public money or because a company wants to maximise shareholder return. There is also a ‘segregation of duties’ issue where the a company is advising the council which projects to pursue whilst at the same time profiting from any project work.

    Going on to Council Members. We live in a representative democracy but are Councillors representing their residents, party, a pressure group or themselves when they vote ?. Whatever your views just look at the GMCAZ debate. Councillors must have known that the scheme was on shaky foundations and more importantly their ward residents were likely very anti before sticking their hands in the air.

    Something I read sums this up nicely. Councillors need to stop representing the council to the residents and instead represent the residents to the council.

    1. Mike Cordingley avatar

      Andrew, I think this is so interesting. On council officers, there’s no doubt that senior officers have a huge amount of influence on decisions. It’s not so long ago that we had a chief executive making their negative views very clear on certain lead councillors. That was quite abrasive but in a perverse way, quite refreshing. More often, senior officers get too close. The executive and senior officers can bolster each other, they can get to a position where any alternative view from outside the grouping can be dismissed as not having the credentials of the combined Leadership/Officer partnership. I’ve seen both Conservative and Labour administrations fall into that trap. It suits officers because it’s often their view that pertains. Whilst at the end of the day the butt stops with the Executive, you’re not getting diversity of ideas, and officers have watched every episode of Yes Minister to develop their skills in manipulating the settled view.

      I take your point too about outsourced delivery. The issue may have always existed. We’ve always outsourced some activity, but the issue of One Trafford puts all this into shade. I think we need more accountability on the commissioning side. There’s a cost to that, but we can’t have One Trafford rushing round in Autumn to get the weed spraying done before the weeds are too dead to spray. Somebody needs to be fronting it to councillors and the community. If we can’t have that extra in-house accountability, then we at least need to allow neighbourhoods their voice. Too often it’s a simple “We’ve told them off” and back to the fortified Executive/Senior Officer quarters.

      Council members – could I vote in opposition to views of voters? Short answer is ‘Yes’. Wouldn’t enjoy it, and I’d have to come out and explain it. I am signed up to a party whip. It’s very rare for councillors to go against their whip. It’s so rare, I can remember times I’ve seen it happen; the Conservative Lisa Cooke voted with Labour on something regarding Waste, and I abstained from a motion criticising Labour on lack of progress on 20mph. That was a big thing for me, it made absolutely no difference and I doubt most noticed, but the whip did and I think it’s fair to say I will never get a position attracting an allowance. So it’s fair to say I wouldn’t blindly vote against the prevailing view, it wouldn’t be unthinking but there’s always going to be things built like sewage works and prisons that people don’t want near them. Sometimes, you do have to look at things objectively. Hopefully it’ll never happen.

I love hearing your views