The 'Big Questions' show from Bristol this morning kindly gave me a chance to air some of my recipe for restoring trust. Two years ago the expenses scandal dragged faith in politicians down to rock bottom. Now it's worse. It's subteranean. I was asked to read the prayer that is said every day in parliament. If everyone believed this there would be no scandals.
It will take many years to rebuild trust in politics. All MPs are judged by many to be lying thieves. The details are forgotten but the mud still sticks. The sins of predecessors are visited on present MPs.
The nature of politics is to exaggerate success, oversell, deny failure, spin or as the public interpret it, to lie. Even the giants of the past Roosevelt and Churchill lied. On occasions they had no choice in order to serve their nations' interests. But optimistic manifesto promises that are not honoured are also pilloried as 'lies' whatever the reasons for failure. While party leaders must bear the brunt for the future disappointments, individual MPs need an alternative strategy for service and survival. Only very foolish MPs lie. Every word they say is chronicled in Hansard or recorded and is instantly available to be googled now and years later. Stephen Pound submitted himself to a lie detector test in 2011. He emerged triumphant as a teller of the truth. The questions were ones where spinning or subterfuge was expected. Stephen answered with the unvarnished truth. The age of spinning has gone.
To maintain or create trust MPs should abide by the backbenchers' ten commandments and actively build trust:
* Understate promises and never exaggerate successes.
* Reply with 48 hours to all messages.
* Be transparent and puritanical with allowances and expenses.
* Avoid serving commercial or partial interests.
* Generously give time and enthusiasm to local causes.
* Never accept personal favours or advantages.
* Always pay for your own meals.
* Put all excess income above salary in a charity trust fund.
* Never lie, tell half-truths or mis-lead.
* Keep constituents informed on key issues.
* Deflect criticism with truth and humour.
* Admit failures.
* Redirect complaints that are beyond responsibility or competence.
* Match behaviour to idealised self-image.
* Ideals must be refreshed and re-invigorated.
* Resist immediate political gratification, seek permanent reforms.
* Strive to give unambiguous answers to questions.
* Choose simplicity and utility over luxury and extravagance.
The private prayer said every day in the Commons is a worthy ambition.
' May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind.'