The marriage between the electorate and its representatives is on the rocks and divorce is looming. The ‘trust factor’ in politics is, as in any relationship, vital to its survival, and has taken a huge battering in recent years. A breakdown in communication is the crux of this very difficult problem.
But is it fair to tar all politicians with the same untrustworthy brush? Like any workplace, Westminster contains mainly good eggs, some bad eggs and a chunk in between. Sadly, for the poor candidate come polling day, plenty of voters will take the bad egg image into the polling booth.
Perceived broken promises over contentious issues such as tuition fees and the EU and the political bloodbath that is the continuing expenses scandal - which will leave a deep scar - are just the tip of the electoral iceberg. Many feel alienated from politics, unaware of just how much it affects them and without the slightest idea what an MP does.
Being an MP is, contrary to popular belief, hard work. By ‘hard work’ I don't mean going through a different gate before enduring the agony of a meal at the Cinnamon Club. I mean reduced expenses, even though you are expected to run two homes, alienating women and bringing back elitism to the Commons; constituent casework (which has ballooned in recent years) through which MPs help many; raising awareness for good causes, select committees, standing committees, adjournment debates, Private Members Bills and wonky voting hours. If you're a minister you have to divide your time between your duties, effectively working two jobs. I could go on!
The perception that all MPs are rich, expense-fiddling layabouts is not only toxic but wildly inaccurate, but that’s beside the point. The ‘toffs’ in the government personify this image in a way Boris Johnson has managed to avoid, and Cameron will struggle to shake it off before 2015. Boris is a 'do-er', speaks his mind, is one of those rare politicians who appears to believe what he says. His self-depreciating attitude goes a long way with an electorate which likes an under-dog, helping him establish a degree of trust where others have failed.
The overriding message from those who contact my own boss is that politicians aren’t listening. Communication is key to explaining complex policy areas effectively, such as changes to the benefits system, and without it hostility and distrust towards politicians grows and creates a climate of fear and uncertainty.
There is still a long way to go to restore public trust in politicians. Greater transparency is a step in the right direction, but, for the coalition in particular, time is running out.
Emma Gray has been working for 11 years in Westminster for Conservative MPs, and is the author of Party Games
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