Former Director of Media for the Scottish Conservatives, Michael Tait, looks at how the new government can reverse the slide towards voter apathy and restore trust in politics. 

Half-way during the Election campaign Sir John Curtice, the guru of UK politics, entered the fray with a sober piece of research that should serve as a warning not to be ignored by all political leaders.

According to his report for the National Centre for Social Research, trust and confidence in our politicians is at an all-time low. What should politicians do to address this alarming slide towards mass apathy? Perhaps, a look to the past, and a visit by a former Tory leader to a Glasgow housing estate, may provide the answer.

The analysis of public attitudes by Sir John found that 45% of voters would “almost never” trust the government to put country before party. Amidst a cost-of-living crisis, this is a damning indictment of our democracy. While the report made a few headlines, it’s now just a footnote, ironically amid a blizzard of coverage about election candidates being investigated by the Gambling Commission over bets being placed on the date of the election. This insight into the mood of the nation will not impact on the result of polling day on Thursday, with Sir Keir Starmer on track to enter No10. The only question left is how large Labour’s majority will be.

However, the Labour leader, and those around him, would be wise to delve deeper into this insightful piece of research for clues on how to hit the ground running post-July 4 and, in the long-term, look beyond a first term in Government. Sir Keir has provided hints at his approach to Government, saying repeatedly that Labour is “back in the service of working people”. He’s got one heck of a job on his hands.

The report, entitled ‘Damaged Politics’, goes further, saying that 58% of voters would “almost never” trust politicians to tell the truth when in a tight corner. People are clearly crying out for honesty, truth and transparency from our politicians. (Big hint, less of the spin.) They also want to know they are genuinely on their side, doing everything to improve their daily lives. 

But, to hit this sweet spot you must spend quality time with real people and get under their skin to find out what needs to be done to make a difference now, not in some distant future. And so, back to Glasgow 2002, when former leader Iain Duncan Smith made an unheralded visit to Easterhouse to see first-hand the poverty and struggles of those living in that community. A visit that is said to have had a profound impact on his approach to social justice.

Just last month, the Trussel Trust revealed that more food parcels were handed out by food banks in its network than ever before. Yet, how many of our politicians have been spotted at a food bank during this campaign? We’ve had the usual stunts and photocalls, but have they really spent enough time with ordinary people to get a true handle on the daily struggles affecting them?

Sir Keir recently dropped his guard when he revealed how the words of a seven-year-old girl from Glasgow, who said she was unable to read, “will stay with me forever”.  A nice anecdote. But when he enters Downing Street, Sir Keir must ensure such encounters are not just a one-off.

Beyond the inevitable honeymoon period on entering office, he must never lose sight of the concerns affecting ordinary people around the kitchen table.

Only by taking this approach can Sir Keir enact policies that will bring tangible ‘change’ to voters, and perhaps convince more of them to give their full trust back to politicians.

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