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Fri, 19 April 2024

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Honest politicians are needed more than ever

(Alamy)

4 min read

A cloud hangs over the return from summer recess: trust in politicians is at a 29 year low.

Figures from Ipsos Mori show that just 12 per cent of respondents trust politicians to tell the truth, which is the lowest in the years it has been running.

A “lack of faith in politics and politicians” has been a top 10 concern for the public since 2021. UK in a Changing Europe’s poll to mark the seventh anniversary of the 2016 EU referendum found that 75 per cent agree with the statement: “I have lost faith in UK politicians in recent years”.

Too few MPs are currently willing — or able — to correct the official record when they make mistakes in Parliament

Rishi Sunak promised to “rebuild trust in politics”. During the televised debates over the summer, he told voters that trust “means telling you the truth, even when that’s not easy”. While the Prime Minister did fill the role of ethics advisor that had been vacant for six months under his predecessors, he has struggled to make a stand in his handling of Nadim Zahawi’s tax affairs and his decision to be absent for the vote on the House of Commons Privileges Committee’s report into whether Boris Johnson lied to Parliament.

Cynicism about politics makes it harder for governments to deliver in the long-term. We face a bewildering array of policy challenges, outlined by a range of impartial academics in a new joint report – The Policy Landscape – from UK in a Changing Europe and Full Fact.

We do so in a context in which an absence of growth coupled with the increased cost of servicing debt are placing huge pressure on the public purse. This necessarily leads to the need for trade-offs, perhaps most apparent when it comes to public services. Demographic pressures imply the need for increased funding for the NHS merely to keep up with demand.

And at some point we will have to address the issue of long-term capital under-investment – in the decade before the pandemic, the share of GDP devoted to healthcare capital was almost 30 per cent lower than the average for the EU 14.

When it comes to net zero, both parties have signed up to the ambitious targets set out in the Climate Change Act of 2008. But, for instance, reaching the target of banning the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles in 2030 will necessitate not only large scale investment in effective electric vehicle infrastructure nationwide, but will also confront policy makers with the challenge of making up the revenues that will be lost from fuel duty.

Similarly, both parties have stated their desire to reduce immigration. Yet neither has addressed the economic implications of this, not least for sectors such as social care that are heavily reliant on migrant labour.

There are numerous difficult choices and trade-offs ahead of us. Which brings us back to trust. If politicians are going to be able to make these choices, some of which will involve short-term costs in order to achieve longer-term objectives, we need to have faith that they are acting in our interests.

This is not a situation that can be remedied overnight. However, there are simple things politicians can do to show they take trust and honesty seriously. Too few MPs are currently willing — or able — to correct the official record when they make mistakes in Parliament.

More than 50,000 people have signed Full Fact’s petition to change the rules of the House of Commons to fix Parliament’s broken corrections system. We need politicians to set high standards and support efforts like this to ensure honest politics.

 

Anand Menon, director of UK in a Changing Europe and Andrew Dudfield, interim chief executive of Full Fact

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