Trust in politicians and the government in the UK has plummeted. The Office for National Statistics found that only 39% of the UK population said they trusted the national government. That is below the international average reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) OFOC 41% which includes states with autocratic systems driving the average down. For a democratic country which is supposed to elect its leaders, that figure is worrying.
Populism weakens trust
According to Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian whose book “On Tyranny” examines the background of populism and its threat to democracy, autocratic leaders want to weaken citizens’ trust in politics. If people start to believe ‘they are all the same’, the turn-out to elections is low and extreme parties have a greater chance to get more votes.
UK leaders are seen as unserious
The current UK government is widely distrusted and its succession of leaders since Mrs May are all seen as lightweight, deluded, unserious, and a bit short on understanding. May’s successor Johnson was dubbed the clown, and his successors’ monikers are the stuff of pub quizzes – who didn’t outshine a lettuce as PM? Worse, the UK isn‘t trusted abroad owing to its hypocrisy over breaking international law; its cruel and failed nonsensical immigration policies; its scant regard for sticking to its promises, such as on climate; its cronyism; its meanness; and its lies on Brexit, the NHS, public services, the economy…. And the current parliamentary spectacles are seen as farcical.
How could we do better?
So we have a challenge: How could we do better? What would you suggest? Is our parliament fit for purpose? When Mhairi Black made this eviscerating speech about the government, the House of Commons was virtually empty. It usually is, even when issues which impact all of us are being discussed.
And what we still get to see of parliament is the theatre of PMQs which is supposed to show MPs holding the government to account.
It doesn‘t seem to work like that. Instead, the government‘s MPs usually come up with a pile of soft questions praising the government or they ask leading questions to let the government pat itself on the back or announce what it is doing for constituents in one of its seats. The Opposition parties ask questions and criticise the government but rarely get direct answers. Flippancy and soppy point-scoring dominate.
When the initial PMQ charade is over, the chamber practically empties. Tricky questions and points arise but how many Ministers are there to hear them? Few.
This is not a sound basis for democracy. Historically, the UK was famous for its ‘Mother of Parliaments’ which was supposed to be the place where MPs would show and explain what they are doing. Televising it helps us see how little power MPs or parliament have in practice to make the government explain what it is doing. Instead, we have jeering and shouting of the sort that isn‘t tolerated even in school playgrounds. That shows contempt, not respect for alternative views and legitimate questions. So much for the tolerance Britain used to pride itself on.
Commons carries on despite the Lords’ warnings
In the parliamentary scrutiny committees where policy is investigated and experts are called in for cross-examination, the membership of those committees is often skewed in the government’s favour. Ironically, the unelected Lords committees produce some of the most probing reports. But, since the House of Commons can overrule the Lords in the final vote, the government usually carries on regardless of peers’ and experts’ warnings.
The current Covid inquiry shows how little our PM and ministers have consulted expert opinions at the time when a pandemic ravaged the country. And the decisions by the politicians supposed to be responsible for the nation’s health put the lives of thousands of people at risk. They seem either not to have taken warnings seriously, or even suggested that avoidable deaths by vulnerable people were acceptable, as they were going to die soon anyway. Their disrespect and flippant reactions which encouraged people to disregard safety measures proposed by the World Health Organisation and UK experts should make them liable to prosecution.
Misconduct in public office is a serious offence. It will be interesting to see if any resignations will follow the evidence presented to the inquiry. Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out call to people to attend restaurants, based on the government putting economic considerations before citizens’ wellbeing, was against the duty of care we should be able to expect from our leaders. I nearly wrote, ‘Elected leaders’ but then remembered that neither of the PMs had been elected through our political system.
The government encourages division
In these difficult times when the world faces a growing climate crisis, the Russian threat of the war in Ukraine, the potentially explosive situation in the Middle East, with an increasing threat to democracy by a global shift to the right, a competent and trustworthy UK government is absolutely vital. The deep divisions evident at the 2016 EU Referendum have become more entrenched. The government seems to encourage these divisions with controversial policies taking away more and more of our freedoms, rights and protections.
While families are descending into destitution, food banks are mushrooming, NHS waiting lists are growing and the UK economy is far from recovering from the pandemic like the US and other European countries, our leaders pursue their anti-migrant blame game and waste taxpayers’ money on court cases just to distract from their failings. Immigration is not causing recessions. Our current staff shortages are a burden on businesses. Brexit is the elephant in the room that politicians, including in opposition parties, don’t want to be mentioned.
How long are people going to put up with inequality in the face of extremely rich MPs lining their pockets and getting away with corruption, lawbreaking, lies and incompetence?
We could do better. We must do better. Suggestions please.