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Majority Of Public Do Not Think Government Behaves Ethically

Rishi Sunak's government has lost a series of by-elections since 2022, some of which were triggered by issues around MPs' standards of behaviour (Alamy)

3 min read

Nearly two thirds of the public do not believe the current government behaves to high ethical standards, according to new polling carried out by the Institute for Government and Ipsos.

The UK fell to 20th in the world on the 2023 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, down from 18th in 2022 and 11th in 2021, following “a string of political ‘sleaze’ and public spending scandals”.

A new report by the Institute for Government has shown further evidence that the UK public is losing faith in politicians and the wider political system, with a poll this month finding that 65 per cent of the public do not believe the current government generally behaves to high ethical standards. 

This included 53 per cent of 2019 Conservative voters who said they would not trust a Conservative government after the next election to behave to high ethical standards, while 19 per cent of 2019 Labour voters would not trust a Labour government after the next election to do the same.

Generally, the poll showed that 45 per cent think standards of behaviour in government have gotten worse since the 2019 general election and around a quarter (26 per cent) would change their vote if their original preferred candidate was found to have broken ethical standards of behaviour.

The IfG report concluded that this was further evidence that people believe politicians and the UK government are not working for the benefit of the public, and the think tank set out a number of recommendations, both short and long term, that could help to improve the issue.

Short-term recommendations included issuing a new ministerial code, giving the Prime Minister’s independent adviser full investigative powers, and requiring ministers to sign a legal deed of undertaking on their post-government jobs.

The IfG also suggested more long-term changes such as improving the quality and regularity of departmental transparency publications, enforcing the rules on what roles former ministers can take on after leaving government, and strengthening routes for whistle-blowing in the civil service after a series of scandals such as 'partygate' and the bullying allegations against former deputy prime minister Dominic Raab.

The report outlined that while the government itself should undertake many of these changes, Parliament should also play a key role in holding Government to account on these issues. 

IfG programme director Tim Durrant, who wrote the report, said that the last few years had shown the current systems for upholding the government's ethical standards were "not working properly".

"This is now an electoral issue, with a quarter of people saying they would change their vote if the behaviour of their preferred party’s candidate didn’t meet expected standards," he said.

"Ahead of the election, both the main parties should commit to quick, sensible changes to improve ethics in government and wider public life.”

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