A new survey has revealed that nearly two-thirds (65%) of UK voters believe that MPs are only “out for their own good”.
The poll found that 63 per cent share this view, with just 5 per cent saying they believe politicians are motivated primarily by the good of the country.
In 2014, when David Cameron was prime minister, after the financial crash and MPs’ expenses scandal and several years into the Conservative Party’s ‘austerity’ period, just 48 per cent of voters believed politicians were “out merely for themselves” rather than for the good of their country or party. But by May this year, within two years of Boris Johnson taking office, this had risen to 57 per cent, and the figure now stands at 63 per cent in the wake of the Owen Paterson affair.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank said that the “disturbing” findings suggest that the recent rash of sleaze scandals has taken a toll on public perception of the political class, and has “squandered” the boost in public confidence recorded amid massive state interventions during the Covid crisis. And Harry Quilter-Pinner (the group’s director for research) said that the Johnson administration was “making things worse”. He warned that trust is at risk, especially on issues such as climate change. Voters must be convinced that expensive action now will bring results in the long-term.
In a report published yesterday, the IPPR suggested that changes to the selection process to deliver candidates from a wider range of backgrounds – including those who have not been to university – would be a good first step to rebuilding trust.
The YouGov poll repeated a question first asked in 1944, when just over one in three British people (35 per cent) thought that politicians were only out for themselves, while slightly more said they were motivated to serve their country.
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That high level of trust in politicians’ selflessness came at a time when huge sacrifices were being demanded from ordinary people as the government undertook an unprecedented mobilisation of society to fight the Second World War.
A follow-up poll in 1972 found eroded levels of trust, but the proportion who thought politicians were primarily “in it for themselves” was still below 40 per cent. The survey that prompted the new report found that trust in MPs decreases the further you move from Westminster. Burnley recorded the lowest level of confidence, while Hampstead and Kilburn were the highest.
There is evidence that distrust of leaders in the country has increased since Brexit.
Before the 2016 referendum, Leave backers and people with lower academic qualifications were more likely to be distrustful of politicians, but following the divisive vote, university-educated voters and supporters of EU membership are now most likely to think MPs are motivated by their own self-interest.
In the report, the IPPR proposes four changes to enhance levels of trust by narrowing the gap between voters’ hopes and their real-life experiences:
Better public services, jobs and opportunities
Action to tackle the biggest issues in modern life
A bold programme of constitutional and democratic reform
Increased diversity of election candidates and greater direct involvement for citizens in democratic processes and decision making
Mr Quilter-Pinner said: “Our research shows a significant and disturbing decline in public trust in politicians and democracy in the UK. People are more convinced than ever that MPs are only interested in their country and not themselves.
” Instead of taking bold action to reverse this long-term trend now, the government seems to be making matters worse.
” These trends are extremely concerning. Trust is the most important commodity in a political system that allows voters to rely on others for their decisions. Our democratic systems cease to function effectively without trust.
“Our politicians must act now to set the UK on a new course, away from democratic dissatisfaction, towards a system which delivers on the priorities of citizens and where everyone has a say in how society is governed.”