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Distrust of politicians reaches new heights

We live in a Britain where a clear majority see themselves as working class, where trust in politicians continues to plummet and where new generations are the least likely to have party loyalties and to vote at general elections.

Lack of endorsement of the current political system of representative democracy is the clear message that shines through the latest British Social Attitudes survey that tracks people’s views, comparing data gathered over a 30-year period.

What emerges is a snapshot of an electorate that is independent, interested in politics but increasingly disconnected from existing institutions and the way they are ruled. The politics chapter is worth studying in detail. Key findings include:

When it comes to “trust” in politicians, the figures are quite remarkable. One in three (32%) say they almost never trust government, up from a mere 11% in 1986. And the proportion who “just about always” or “most of the time” trust government has almost halved, falling from 38%  to just 18%.

82% of voters don't trust government

So that’s over eight out of ten voters who don’t care to lend their trust to government. This scepticism is currently reflected in the polls that reject any plans to attack Syria, whatever the situation over chemical weapons.

Contemporary Britain, says the BSA report, is “marked by strong and pervasive class
divisions” – where 60% think of themselves as working class – which in turn “lead to sustained and possibly increasing inequalities across classes”. The authors find it a “paradox” that at the same time fewer people identify with any political party.

There is a relatively simple explanation for this however, which the report does not delve into. Labour in particular has made strenuous efforts to distance itself from representing the interests of the working class. This morning, Labour leader Ed Miliband is, for example, telling the trade unions that their traditional membership links with the party have to change so that he can stand a better chance of winning the next election.

Behind Miliband’s shift is a more profound process that’s been under way for about the same period as that covered by the BSA, namely corporate-driven globalisation with its dependence on deregulated markets, low wages and fewer and fewer workplace rights.

New Labour bought into this and became a neo-liberal, capitalist party. This is something union leaders still find hard to stomach or acknowledge while ordinary working people clocked on to it some time ago. No one should be surprised that fewer and fewer people want to “identify” with Labour in these circumstances.  

The BSA survey is a valuable piece of research. It paints a picture of a democracy in decline, with the major parties committed to the status quo. Giving the right to vote a new significance will require a fundamental shift in the political system, along the lines of creating a real democracy. You could do worse than support projects like the Agreement of the People for the 21st century campaign and others fighting for democratic emancipation.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
10 September 2013

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