Standards for England, the ethics watchdog for 80,000 local councillors, has done a survey of attitudes to local councillors, MPs and politicians in general.
The findings will not make comfortable reading for many MPs and parliamentary candidates in the wake of the Commons expenses scandal.
The survey of 1,735 adults was conducted in June, after the local and European elections,and finds trust towards local politicians rating higher than towards MPs. Standards for England Chief Executive, Glenys Stacey, has said: “It is pleasing … to see that trust in local politicians held up favourably compared to people’s views about national politicians.”
But looking at the figures, it appears 1% of those surveyed feel MPs ‘always’ tell the truth, compared to 2% for councillors. Hardly a dramatic leap in trust.
More positive (for councillors, that is) is the result for politicians ‘never or rarely’ telling the truth. While nearly a third (29%) of those surveyed felt that MPs are verbally dishonest, a fifth (20%) felt the same way about councillors.
The same questions were asked in 2007, when the results were 20% for MPs and 18% for councillors. So both groups have seen an increase in mistrust in the past 2 years.
What is interesting is the decline in the number of ‘don’t knows’ for each category, suggesting that not only has confidence in politicians been dented generally, but perceptions of politicians have been galvanised – there are fewer people without an opinion, positive or negative.
As I said in a recent Guardian article written with my friend and Labour colleague Chuka Umunna, PPC for Streatham, voters’ trust in what should be an open and honest vocation needs to rebuilt. No amount of legislation or codes of conduct will achieve that. It is for politicians to earn trust through personal demonstration of honesty and hard work, looking to our behaviour and that of our parties to correct what has caused the electorate to lose confidence.
Is regaining trust in politics and politicians an impossible task? Perhaps, for some. The voters should give their verdict on them.
To others I would say it will not be short work. Reflect on the words of Dr Samuel Johnson (a frequent visitor to Streatham, by the way).
Johnson said: “Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance.”