Monday, 29 March 2010

Trust, Politics and Motivation

It would be great if we could trust politicians, but the evidence suggests otherwise. So how can we separate the wheat from the chaff; who can we trust?

Obviously, if there is hard evidence about what someone says, then trust comes easier. And, being social animals, we tend to trust a consensus of opinion, even if this isn't well founded. Another way is to try and understand the motivations driving an individual or organisation. Understanding the pressures that people are under can allow us to better judge what they are saying.

Now lets consider a general election. The motivation is to win the election and gain power by garnering as many votes as possible, especially in the marginal seats that matter the most. This can be done in a number of ways:

  • Concentrate resources on marginal seats and the issues that are key to those voters
  • Make sure that your party is credible and trust worthy and point out every folly of the opposition
  • Dig up the dirt on the opposition
  • Offer promises that are attractive to voters. If you can't deliver them you can blame it on other factors and by the time the next election comes around it will likely all be forgotten
  • Be different to the opposition. Especially in matters of forecast: argue that they have got it wrong and you are right - and better. It doesn't matter too much if your forecasts aren't very accurate, because none are, but why not take the opportunity to undermine the opposition? If you gain power and your forecasts are proved to be wrong then you can blame it on a changing scenario... and by the time of the next election it will all be forgotten anyway
  • Don't swim against the public mood - which may be propagated by the papers. Instead, go with the flow of public opinion
Within the Interactive Democracy proposal, or most forms of direct democracy, there will still be general elections and most of the issues of trust and skepticism will continue. However, ID does put pressure on politicians to be more trust worthy, because the electorate can, at any time, trigger a (good)bye-election, without waiting for the next general election.

For an alternative perspective on the role of trust in politics please see Anthony Seldon's programme "Trust Politics", available on iPlayer.

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