The official blog of The Social Democratic Party.

A MATTER OF TRUST

The Conservative and Labour Parties are failing to give the public what it most craves - people and ideas it can trust. SDP member DANNY PYE says that's also an opportunity.

By: SDP

 

 

Trust is, according to psychologists, described as a belief in a probability that a person will behave in certain ways, will prove dependable. Trust, then, is central to a feeling of confidence – that’s as true between people and institutions as it is between each of us.

It can seem that that feeling of confidence is at a bleak low point. Like many others, that troubles me because I want to know that there is a journey ahead along which my children, future grandchildren and future great-grandchildren will find the foundations to be safe, healthy and happy.

Recent events have only undermined my sense of confidence in that further still. Not just the Post Office, maternity wards and blood transfusion scandals – to name just three of what feels like many more true jaw-droppers – in which the needs of an organisation rode roughshod over the needs of people. But also in the attitudes expressed by the behaviours of the two main parties, which, for my money, further show them both to lack an internally coherent sense of trust that anyone might naturally seek in their government.

Both seem to have forgotten that, once lost, trust is so very hard to regain. And that, once the moral strictures of trust are let go, it’s all too easy for things to spiral out of control. Theft starts small – maybe £5, out of desperation for food, to give an example from my professional life in the grocery industry – but this seed so often grows out of control. 

Take Rishi Sunak’s announcement of the forthcoming general election date, a statement that was as wet as the weather it was staged in but, far more importantly – astonishingly, really – was seemingly made without speaking to his MPs, leaving his party with a need to fill 150 seats in desperately short measure. Great teamwork Rishi… 

Of these, 77 are accounted for by MPs standing down. Many reasons are cited for this decision – from mental health to long tenure. But one can’t help but imagine these MPs also considering the Conservatives’ public image as the party that had parties during the pandemic, foisting a punishing, ruinous lockdown on the public while ignoring the same restrictions for themselves. They know the writing is now very much on the wall. Nonetheless, how can Sunak expect to have the trust of the nation if he can’t maintain the trust of his own MPs? 

Then there is the rush of Conservative MPs – including a former minister – to cross the floor. Of course people should be free to change their ideological position. But the timing here looks to be entirely self-serving. Remember that well-known saying of the corporate world, “There’s no ‘I’ in team”? How do these MPs suddenly shifting from blue to red expect their new peers – never mind their constituencies – to trust them when they change their mind with the wind? 

That Kier Starmer hasn’t rejected their approaches out of hand is a wonder. But the state of trust is hardly any better within the Labour Party. Diane Abbot and Dr Faiza Shaheen, both of who have made admittedly ill-judged comments in the media, or liked an unpleasant post on social media, have been unceremoniously hung out to dry by their leader. No wonder one is – at time of writing – now considering not standing at the next election and the other as an independent.

The Abbot example is particularly enlightening. And discouraging. The sheer audacity of restoring the whip to Abbot – who, love her or loathe her, has devoted herself to the Labour cause for decades – only to then tell her she can’t stand for the party and, only after media and public outcry, that she can after all, clearly displays the culture that Starmer is creating in the Labour Party. The fear, of course, is that this sets to tone for Britain too, should Labour win the election. How can the British public trust Starmer to make courageous and bold and clearly argued decisions for the good of the country and stick to them if this is his method? 

The British people need to be able to see stability, hear realistic promises backed by fact not fantasy, feel that they are being led by people who have their best interests at heart – which, and here’s the challenge of leadership, sometimes means breaking with our own selfish interests – and trust that this leader will follow through on the inevitably tough choices. 

The lack of communication, the desperation, the defections and rejections  would suggest that the Conservative and Labour Parties alike are unable to provide this. 

Perhaps this is an easier thing to shout about from the sidelines. But while the modern incarnation of the SDP hasn’t been in government, its consistency and directness stands in stark contrast all the same. Indeed, its very consistency in argument and messaging – its Pensions, Welfare and Social Security policy, for example, states clearly what the party would do and how it would be paid for – strikes me as so refreshing. Here we are weeks from a general election and who knows what either the Conservative or Labour Parties actually stand for? Not that this is exactly a new problem…

Perhaps this is one reason why some political commentators have suggested that this will be an election of Sunak vs Starmer, with neither men having the committed backing of their parties. But that, of course, is to get lost in the assumption that British politics needs to be the same old two horse race. There is a third, serious, credible option. The SDP’s membership may need patience but it should never let go of the trust it has in its ideas or in each other, because trust works. 

Take an instance from sport. Gareth Southgate and Sarina Weigman have both now taken an England team to a major football final by giving their players and staff a clear message, selling them a plan, earning their respect and trust and in turn trusting their teams. It so nearly finished in glory with no scandal whatsoever. The nation lifts in these moments and comes together precisely because they are exemplary. It’s no coincidence that these leaders are still in place today. 

 

 

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6th June 2024

Family, Community, Nation.