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The importance of trust

The importance of trust
3 Jan 1845

Paddy Ashdown has inspired an editorial via an interview in The Times today (Links: £), on the subject trust. I largely agree with the point being made – trust is important. This is a non-partisan point. Trust is part of the fabric of society. If you are of Thatcher’s “no such thing as society” view, then as she said shortly after that, “life is a reciprocal business”. However, The Times goes a bit astray if it meant to actually engender trust.

Here’s the key passage for me:

It is not necessary to share Lord Ashdown’s taste for emphatic language to acknowledge that he has a point. The troubles that have overtaken Parliament, the financial services industry, the press, the BBC and the NHS are linked. They all involve a loss of trust. And, in a democracy, that loss is serious.

Lord Ashdown is also right to believe that the loss of trust could be dangerous. It could undermine democracy, with the rise of populist alternatives. It could undermine freedom of speech, with the acceptance of state regulation of the press. It could undermine growth, with Britain becoming a place where business is uncomfortable.

The does little to promote trust in deed as well as word: self-interest is very much to the fore. Loss of trust in the press is mentioned, but no solution is proposed, merely resisting state regulation. It is a Conservative paper, and makes a sly reference to the democratic dangers of “populist alternatives” i.e. Tory opponents UKIP. There is a whiff of free market fear mongering about the vague notion that Britain is becoming a place where “business is uncomfortable”.

Their own conclusion is also rather at odds to their own actions. They declare a preference for politicians being more honest in their promises:

Politicians should instead seek to win trust by being more limited in their ambitions and more successful in achieving them. They should promise less, but deliver more. They should accept that the era when elites can evade question is over.

An admirable sentiment that I heartily endorse, which is exactly why I thought it was ridiculous for The Times to name George Osborne as Briton of the Year. Osborne is a spectacular case of making wild promises in pursuit of power. Promising to clear the deficit in a single term was utter nonsense, and irresponsible in the middle of a deep economic crisis. It was an impossible promise that, inevitably, he utterly failed to deliver. It was successful politics, however, because people liked the sound of that better than Labour’s more realistic proposition.

The Times nonetheless rewarded him for this failure, for his political stamina rather than any economic ability as Chancellor – in other words, his ability to evade hard questions. “The era when elites can evade question” is not over as long as The Times is a willing accomplice in helping them do so.


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