BBC/Ipsos MORI poll: MPs are self-absorbed liars
When asked whether they trusted MPs to tell the truth, only 20 per cent said they did and 76 per cent said they did not - up from 60 per cent three years ago. When three quarters of the population perceive politicians to be pathologically predisposed to lying, there is a manifest crisis of confidence in democracy. Whether or not one trusts is usually dependent on whether one believes the other is trustworthy in the relevant circumstances. This depends on what knowledge one has of the other’s future commitments to behave as one trusts.
Locke thought trust central to consensual government. A government without trust governs without consent: a parliament without trust can only be redeemed when submitted to ‘the court of public opinion’ in a general election.
But this graph highlights something more fundamentally concerning. Some 62 per cent said they believed MPs put self-interest ahead of the country and their constituents. Disraeli once said to a wavering MP, “Damn your principles! Stick to your party.” But the tension is no longer between party interests and principled inner issues of conscience: the ‘self-interest’ here is psychological egoism. Almost two thirds of people perceive MPs to be devoid of altruism: they are incapable of acting unconditionally out of love or a hatred of injustice. Politicians are not perceived to be sacrificial servants of the people – though they may fervently profess to be – but are consumed with self-interest and self-satisfaction.
This is a cause of great sorrow. While it is undoubtedly true that Parliament contains its ethical egoists – those who, while they aim at the good of others, really pursue a moral life which maximises the good for themselves – there are many who do it for little earthly reward, indeed, incur much earthly derision. Christians are not perfect, but the Christians in Parliament have come out of ‘expenses-gate’ a lot better than most.
Central to the very notion of a moral imperative is the idea that it has authority to override all other considerations, self-interest among them, and to rule out the thought of calculating and quantifying the balance for and against advantage to self on particular occasions of moral obligation. It is not true, for the Christian, that everything we can be said to want or desire is an enhancement or fulfilment of the self. It is possible to express sympathetic concern for the sake of others, not one’s own.
And therein lies the solution to an apparently unbridgeable gulf between elector and elected. For when the elected truly sympathises with the plight of the electorate – lives with their bread, feels their want, tastes their grief – then the elected will become known and be perceived to be made of the same human and frail stuff as others, and so reach out with their message of political salvation for no reward other than the advancement of the common good.