160216 Trust in political institutions
  • Talking about trust (again). How about an addendum to last Thursday’s To The Point post? That used the European Commission’s own opinion polling to compare Britain’s trust in the EU with other countries’ trust in the EU, but they aren’t the only numbers on trust therein. The Eurobarometer also measures our trust in our own politicians; specifically, the Government and Parliament. I’ve used those findings to produce the graph above.
  • The similarities… The first thing I noticed was how closely the different lines track each other. When trust rises, it tends to rise for the EU, our Government and our Parliament, all at once. And likewise when trust falls. Perhaps this is because of the commonality between all three: whether it’s the economy or the refugee crisis, we judge them according to how they’re dealing with the same problems. Or perhaps it’s more like cross-contamination: if one set of politicians earns our loathing, we decide to loathe politicians in general. In any case, there’s a surprising lack of distinction between these three political institutions.
  • …and the differences. But there’s not a total lack of distinction. Sometimes we gain or lose trust in one institution quicker than we gain or lose trust in another. Sometimes they swap places in our hearts. This certainly happened around the expenses scandal, which emerged in July 2009. Our trust in Parliament fell by 13 percentage points between surveys. Our trust in the Government fell by 8 percentage points. This put both below the EU.
  • The current state of play. Nowadays, the Union is bottom again – and by an almost unprecedented distance. In November’s survey, only 23 per cent of Brits said that they tend to trust the EU, compared to 34 per cent for our Parliament and 31 per cent for the Government. In his ToryDiary post this morning, Mark Wallace wrote: “The electorate may not trust British politicians much – but I’d bet they trust the sweet nothings uttered by arrogant, distant suits from Brussels a good deal less.” It was a sensible wager.
  • Our separation from Europe, even if we don’t separate. Across the entire EU, the average level of trust in the Union itself is 32 per cent, compared to 28 per cent for national parliaments and 27 per cent for national governments. Which is to say, Britain’s numbers distinguish it. This is the great challenge facing those advocating Remain, both during the referendum campaign and after it: how to reaffirm our commitment to what is, in many ways, a loveless marriage.