Monday, 22 July 2013

On Trust

"A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody." ( Thomas Paine)
"Do not trust all men, but trust men of worth; the former course is silly, the latter a mark of prudence" ( Democritus)
"For trust not him that hath once broken faith"  ( William Shakespeare, King Henry VI, Part 3)
In G.K. Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday", a man takes on the role of Thursday as an undercover policeman to infiltrate the Council of Anarchists, who are named after the days of the week, and whose leader is just called Sunday.
It is a lesson in mistrust, but as it turns out, without spoiling too much of the plot, Sunday succeeds largely because no one in the Council can trust anyone else. They are all suspicious of each other.
That was something which I was thinking about with regard to the States vote on the principles of the Referendum which were rejected in the States last week. The whole enterprise has been all about trust, or the lack of it.
The States in the first instance lacked the trust to hand over the Electoral Commission to an independent group as had been originally planned. They just did not trust that the outcome would be something acceptable to them. The electorate really didn't come into those considerations at all.
The States then lacked the trust to make the results of the Referendum binding. Jeremy Macon's attempt to bring in a limit of 40% before it would be acceptable to the States was a good suggestion, because after that there was no confidence that a low turnout would signify anything.
And the end result of the vote has been that the public, who already had a certain degree of mistrust in the whole matter, are even less likely to vote in the next election. Their opinion was called for, and then discarded because the whole matter was so badly thought out (in terms of binding and thresholds) that no one knew exactly how to interpret the results. But one result was clear: you ask the people what they want, and if you then treat them like idiots, they are likely to loose confidence in you.
"It is only prudent never to place complete confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived."  ( René Descartes)
It is not the only case where this has happened with a Referendum. Notoriously, the Irish Referendum rejected the EU Treaty of Lisbon in 2008, and was brought back again, with a better campaign, and passed in 2009. Evidently, when the will of the people is not what you want, you just try again until it matches your chosen outcome. This is how to produce a result which the instigators of the Treaty described as "more democratic, more transparent and more efficient". Of course, if you have to avoid any referendum in most countries, and take any that fail as a reason to try again until you get the right result, you are a very long way from democracy and trust.
"Old friend,' said Cadvan, filling another glass for himself and sniffing its rich smell. 'If we do not trust one another, we are already defeated." (( Alison Croggon, The Singing)
Politicians get their legitimacy from trust. It is trust that drives people out to vote for them at elections. And that in turn provides them with a mandate to govern as representatives of those people who placed trust in them.
A political system in which trust has been seriously eroded is in danger of losing voter turnout, and hence losing the legitimacy which comes from that trust. They may govern by default, because the lower numbers who did turn out voted for them, but they are there purely because the mechanisms of election remain in place.
As Professor Geoffrey Gallop says: "Trust is the hidden curriculum of modern politics. If trust is there, big changes are possible. If not, it is hard for governments to do what is needed to meet future challenges. Building trust should be a government priority."
The mistake is to think that trust, when destroyed, can be legislated back into existence. It cannot. It requires more than words. It needs more engagement than that. Here are some suggestions by which this may be done.
States members need to take full responsibility for their actions and choices. This means taking a deep, hard look at why they lost the public trust, and how the public feel cheated, how they can make sure they never cheat the public again. That means humility.
States members need to give the public the time and space to vent their feelings. This includes listening to the public anger about what they have done, and letting the public asking them lots and lots of questions, hurling a great deal of judgment, even raging at them, while they stand strong, keep apologising, and reaching out with compassion and understanding.
States members need to find out more about what the public expectations are. Find out what they need. They need to what they can do to change the situation and make it better.
States members need to accept that sometimes it going to feel like they are moving two steps forward and three steps back. One day it may seem like there's hope for tomorrow, and the next day, the dark clouds of mistrust have returned. There will be inevitable bumps and setbacks along the way back to trust, so it is important for them to have a plan in place to help them keep calm and centred, and be prepared to take positive action to address these pitfalls.
States members need to make sure that all promises they make are promises they keep. Their words, actions and deeds must come from total and unwavering integrity. There must be no lies, no duplicity, no excuses, no exceptions. An honest apology is worth more to trust than the face saving excuses and prevarication, which erodes trust and fools nobody anyway.
States members need to show how much they appreciate the general public in big and small ways every day, and then the general public will show how much they appreciate having States members elected on their behalf..
Rebuilding trust is both a rite of passage and a healing journey. It will take patience, courage, inner strength and time for both the public (who feel betrayed) and the States (who have betrayed their trust)  to heal and regain balance.
At the heart of the contract between States members and voters is a relationship of trust. The mechanisms of democracy - the nomination meetings, the manifesto, the hustings, the ballot box - are all externals, important part of how democracy works. But they are not the most important part: that is all about relationships of trust. That's the real basis why people vote.
"We're paying the highest tribute you can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It's that simple." (Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird)

1 comment:

James said...

It's not just States members.

The problem that Jersey has is that the separation of powers between the legislature, judiciary and executive (not to mention the media) is completely inadequate. When the unelected Bailiff can intervene to prevent debate on a subject; when an unelected quangocrat can effect the sacking of an elected Minister; when the local rag happily carries unsubstantiated allegations by a politician but refuses to run the defence of the victim - you have a society that is rotten to the core.