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Last Updated: Monday, 21 March, 2005, 12:29 GMT
Are politicians trustworthy?
Charles Kennedy, Tony Blair, Michael Howard
Eight out of ten voters do not trust politicians to tell the truth, a new poll conducted for the BBC suggests.

Some 87% of the 1,000 adults questioned by ICM for BBC News 24 said politicians did not keep the promises they make before elections.

Only 16% of those questioned think MPs are aiming to do the best for their country.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has predicted trust will be "the key choice" at the next election.

Do you trust your MP? Are politicians out for themselves? Will trust affect who you vote for in the next election?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received:

As I drove out of my college last night I was confronted by a political poster that read "Just how difficult is it to keep a hospital clean?" - how does this address the actual problem or give any confidence that the party responsible for the poster has any greater capacity for doing it (unless of course they propose their supporters get out the scrubbing brushes!)?
Megan, Cheshire UK

The answer is simple. Find someone you trust, and vote for them instead.
James Murphy, Dorset

The only two politicians I can think of who tried to be honest was Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague. Neither of these truly honest people managed to become Prime Minister, in the name of 'charisma.' A great shame.
James, Sheffield, UK

I certainly don't trust most politicians but I trust journalists even less, and strongly suspect that the media - with its biases, arrogance and negativity - plays a very big role in cultivating an untrustworthy political environment. At least I can vote against dodgy politicians; I'm obliged to pay for the BBC whether I like it or not.
Adam Hunter, UK

They have no interest in the people they are supposed to represent
James Rock, Nottingham, UK
Politicians are only in the job for what they get out of it. Power, money and influence. They have no interest in the people they are supposed to represent. They use any situation to promote their interests and the interests of their cronies. They do not take their constituents views into account as they must toe their party line or if they are in powerful positions they do not need to.
James Rock, Nottingham, UK

The nature of politics makes politicians untrustworthy.
Toby, Surrey

If Tony Blair walking into my office wet-through and said it was raining, I'd have to look out and check.
Vince, Wakefield

If people think our politicians aren't trustworthy, then perhaps they should take a look at Italy or Russia. As usual the British public winges constantly and assumes that our problems are worse than everyone else.
Pete, Nottingham, UK

Politicians' daughter Katherine makes a fair point about media headlines, but then again too many politicians try and reduce complex issues to soundbite headlines themselves. The NHS, for example, desperately needs an open debate about how it reconciles immense expectations and immense costs. Most of what comes from the politicos is "See how much better it is/would be with us!"
Jon G, Huddersfield UK

I'd say that most politicians are about one metre trustworthy, which is just about the same as I could throw one of them.
Adam, Preston, Lancs

Are you kidding? After you shake hands with one, you'd better count your fingers just to be sure you've still got them all. Show me a politician who doesn't lie and I'll show you one who will not likely get elected or go very far if he does.
Mark, USA

There is no honesty. None is expected and none is given
Ranjith Ramanathan, London
Party politics and career politicians mean we are not truly represented. Hidden agendas and having to tow the party line mean politicians having to go against their own beliefs. There is no honesty. None is expected and none is given.
Ranjith Ramanathan, London

Are politicians trustworthy? Is the pope Jewish? When you look at the current 3 main party leaders you have to say the most 'trustworthy' (as defined as the one you distrust the least) is Charles Kennedy but Mr Kennedy's chances of forming a government are less than my flying to the moon tonight on our budgie. So, we're left with Tony and Michael, both badly damaged goods, both as bad as each other. I mean, let's be honest, which one would you buy a used car from? Now, if Ken Clarke & Gordon Brown were party leaders I'd have more confidence, at least for a year or two.
Colin, Porstmouth, UK

Their words are as sweet as honey, their promises to the electorates are to win election, they seem ready to redeem electoral pledge when another election approaches. Those who trust politicians are themselves politicians, the rest us are in the darkness.
VM Akhere, Gerona Spain

Gosh, this is a surprising result. I'd love to hear the statistics on how many of the people asked just burst out laughing, and how long it took them to recover.
David Hazel, Fareham, UK

Most of them enter politics out of a genuine desire to try to make things better
Katherine, London, UK
Speaking as a person who grew up around politics and politicians (as a child of two of them), I'd say career politicians are just like everyone else. There are good ones and bad ones and most of them enter politics out of a genuine desire to try to make things better (which is more than most professions can say). The difference is that the spotlight is on them all the time - who of us could honestly say that we would come off whiter than white if our every action and word were recorded and scrutinised? It doesn't help when certain sections of the media are more interested in sensationalist headlines than complex realities.
Katherine, London, UK

Several weeks ago the Tories told us about their £35m savings plan. At that time Labour criticised that by saying (around) £21m was already in its plans - so could not be counted. Now Labour is saying that Tory plans are not credible. What is credible one has to ask - the answer, it seems, is nothing that comes from any politician !
Roger Riseley, St. Albans, UK

Only when Politicians have the interests of the people of the country at heart can we begin to trust them. The decisions made by politicians are too heavily influenced by big business, who donate money to the parties, or where MPs have a financial interest. Out of the three leaders pictured, I would trust Blair and Howard least, but that does not mean to say Kennedy is a trustworthy politician.
Ian, UK

The British public are fed up with the tribal, mud slinging games of Westminster
Paul S Johnson, UK
The British public are fed up with the tribal, mud slinging games of Westminster. It simply just does not deliver. Just look at how we treat the most vulnerable members of society: the sick, the young and the elderly. It is time we heard other voices in Westminster and that will only happen when we abandon what Lord Hailsham called an "elected dictatorship" in favour of a shareholding democracy that Proportional Representation would provide.
Paul S Johnson, UK

I'm amazed 20% of voters still trust them - maybe that says something about the state of British education? Of course politicians have always suffered from normal human weaknesses and have always been tempted to promise a little more than they can realistically deliver; but it is the culture of centralised control and spin introduced by Messrs Blair, Mandelson, and Campbell which has taken levels of trust to an all time low.
Malcolm Watson, Aberdeen, Scotland

Paul from Colchester (below) uses the example of Michael Howard's Paxman interview, but I've always thought this was a great example of how MPs DON'T lie. If Howard had been willing to lie, he wouldn't have needed to be evasive. On the other hand, I've seen times when Tony Blair has ummed and awwed before giving a categorical 'no'. That seems a bit strange to me.
Rob, London, UK

But spare a thought for the poor politician who has to deal with an electorate who: wants better services but does not want to pay more tax, wants to be safe but does not want to pass security laws, complains that they are not being "listened to" when they cannot have their own way, believe what they read in their choice of media without considering the counter-arguments and can always spend government money better than the government while getting themselves into massive debt. If I was a politician I'd want to "throw out" the electorate rather than vice-versa.
Al, UK

The phrase public service is something of a joke
Paul, Madrid, Spain
I don't trust any of them. None of them are there for anything other than to take advantage of whatever situation that arises for their own ends. The phrase public service is something of a joke, when are they going to serve the public instead of themselves and their rich friends?
Paul, Madrid, Spain

To answer the question, yes I trust my MP. Since he got in at the 97 election, you can actually see him active in the community and doing things, unlike the previous incumbent who only ever appeared at election times. So yes, I will be voting for him.

I'm sure that some politicians are out for themselves, as with some people in all walks of life. The thing that annoys me most about politicians is how they sound the same, use the same intonations and techniques and trot out the same old clichés. If there were a few more with some spark and originality, perhaps people would be more interested in voting.
Simon Feegrade, Surbiton, England

The party system has emasculated democracy and needs to be weakened immediately, but we can't have secret voting as we need to know our MP has done what he or she promised. So, we should get rid of general elections and have a rolling program of by-elections. Then each election would be more about the individual, not the party.
Justin Rowles, Southampton, UK

Neither Howard nor Kennedy have anything like Blair's powers of persuasion
Norman Paterson, St Andrews, Scotland
I don't trust Tony Blair any more. He's very clever and very believable, and I agree with much of what he says, so it is not easy to resist. He just doesn't do what he promises - and then when you are disappointed, he wins you back into trusting him again. He'd be a good con man. Neither Howard nor Kennedy have anything like Blair's powers of persuasion.
Norman Paterson, St Andrews, Scotland

Admittedly, my first choice in my future career wasn't to be a politician, but I feel, I could do a better job at running the country by giving instant results, not promises. Because politicians always promise, "in 2015" or "in the next 5 years..." never immediate actions. The trouble with politicians is they always get side-tracked. They should spend less time off the TV chat shows and more time among the people, and not get it slapped across the front page of all the news papers.
Fiona Christian, Grantham Lincolnshire

I certainly trust the Conservatives to cut tax and reduce spending on public services, this is why I'll vote Labour.
Kevin, West Midlands

I used to work directly for an MP (Norman Baker, the MP for Lewes) and I can say without hesitation that he was the most honest, hard-working and trustworthy person I have ever worked for or with. That doesn't, of course, go for every MP, but people should not be so lazy-minded as to think that they are "all the same".
Stuart, London, UK

Isn't it ironic - in 1997 the Tories lost the election because they had lost the trust of the electorate! Is much different today? Unfortunately the answer is yes - now neither party deserves our trust !
Roger Riseley, St Albans, UK

The problem for Labour is that although we suspect that Michael Howard might not always tell the truth, we know that Tony Blair has already lied to us about going to war in Iraq and who knows what else he might lie about.
ed, Chester, UK

So 87% don't trust politicians, no surprise there then. As long as politics is left to a professional elite this will carry on. It is time for everyone to be a politician and say what they think on issues.
Adrian Cannon, Edinburgh, Scotland

How can anyone trust Blair when he lied over the war and even today he is talking about £35bn Tory spending 'cuts' which even Labour-supporting newspapers say is a lie. Blair has destroyed people's trust of all politicians in this country and that is very damaging to our democracy.
Andy S, Manchester

The party system... effectively requires MPs to overrule their own convictions
Ken Ricketts, Wokingham, UK
I think the root of the problem is the party system. It effectively requires MPs to overrule their own convictions on individual policies in order to toe the party line, making them all, at best, dissimulators. It also means that voters can only vote for a package which, as others have noted, is never delivered in full, and much of which is never delivered at all. It is time to introduce a system similar to that in many parts of the US, where, as well as voting for a party, it is possible to cast your vote on many more specific issues. Modern technology makes it possible; only politicians would dislike it.
Ken Ricketts, Wokingham, UK

I think it is time the BBC started to tell us what other parties policies are not just the 3 usual suspects i.e. UKIP, Veritas and even the BNP
Janet Burdon, Pontefract, West Yorks

This might seem a bit unusual - but I do actually trust my MP - Bob Russell (a Lib Dem) but, as for the rest of them, it's a different matter. So many politicians think they've been successful by giving evasive answers and weasel words - they don't seem to realise that we KNOW they're lying to us, and we are not that stupid. You just have to look at the now famous Paxman interview with Michael Howard as a fine example of this. And as for Tony Blair - he has become a totally compulsive liar from Iraq to the new terror laws. Nobody trusts you at all anymore Tony - quit while you're ahead.
Paul, Colchester, UK

Before everyone starts thinking the Lib Dems are in some way different from the other parties may I just recall how they used to send leaflets through my door claiming to be the only anti-EU party. They say what voters in certain parts of the country want them to say regardless of whether it deviates from their true position. I'd say they were a lot more dishonest than they're given credit for!
Jim, Bristol

The much more significant problem is the fact that they don't trust us
William Warbrick, London, UK
We don't trust them, of course. But the much more significant problem is the fact that they don't trust us. We are not trusted to handle the facts of any given situation and make long term decisions. On the issue of the environment, or even medium term security issues such as invading Iraq, we are not trusted with the plain facts on which to form our opinions. Another intractable situation that assures the ultimate destruction of mankind. The scale of the decisions that need to be taken is well beyond the capabilities of our frail political systems to do so.
William Warbrick, London, UK

When people enter politics, particularly at a local level, their motives are generally good. However, politicians soon lose their morals and are mainly 'out for number 1' (or number 10, rather!!). They are too caught up in their own career development to be in any way selfless.
Jennifer, Cardiff, UK

I think that in fact most people do trust politicians, it is just not the done thing to admit it. Tabloid headlines run this country, or so it would seem when you ask the average person on the street. In fact these politicians are in their places because enough people voted for them. Perhaps the only way to really gauge the truth is to introduce compulsory voting with the 'none of the above' box. Until then I recommend anyone who doesn't trust their local and national politicians to stand for election instead of claiming they openly allow these people to lie and cheat with their lives, because to say you don't trust them is exactly that.
Jennifer, Netherlands, ex-UK

I voted in 1997 to get rid of the Tories but instead I got "New Labour": just new Tories under another name. Now like most people I would prefer Brown to Blair but I have no way to vote for Brown. This is not true democracy - it is the manufacture of consent.
Merlin Cox, London, UK

My local MP, David Taylor, is a true constituent MP who does his job properly
Rachael, Derbyshire
My local MP, David Taylor, will certainly get my vote - I approached him with a problem in November last year and he has done everything he promised and much more - He gave it is personal attention, nagged local councils, the relevant MPs in Westminster and kept track of everything that was said and even though the outcome was not what I was hoping for he would get my vote no matter which party he was with as he is a true constituent MP who does his job properly, I only wish ALL MPs remembered what Mr Taylor does - that he was elected by the people to work for their good and well being. Many thanks Mr Taylor!
Rachael, Derbyshire

I've never known one yet to be completely trustworthy. They all say what they like when not in power but when in office they soon realise that thing ARE different. Most politicians I've come across both locally and nationally want to "run with the fox and hunt with the hounds" so to speak.
David Hankey, Great Easton, Leics, England

Never trust anyone that seeks power, they are always out for their own self interest. Voters need to take some blame too, they always vote for the person that will make them better off, no matter the consequences for the country. To be human is to be selfish, except for a select few like Private Beharry, a man that is an example to us all.
Chris, UK

Most politicians, of whatever party, are genuine in their motivations
John, England
I genuinely believe that most politicians, of whatever party, are genuine in their motivations, and really want to make things better. The problem is that the party machines often get in the way, and create the wrong impression with the public. As for honesty, our MPs are scrutinised more now than at any time in our history. As a result, levels of probity are, despite what the red-tops would have us believe, higher than ever. I very much doubt whether the reputation of any MPs, or even Party Leaders, from previous generations of politicians, would stand up to modern levels of scrutiny.
John, England

When I vote for my MP. I am voting to send them to parliament to represent me, not their party. I would have a lot more trust if they were able to vote for the parliamentary bills in secret. Obviously no party will bring this in as it means them losing power over their members.
Colin, Cheshire

Ian Duncan Smith tried the honest and straightforward approach to politics and just look what happened to him. We as a nation seem to think that charisma, political correctness and trendiness are more important than honesty and conviction. We get the politicians we deserve at the end of the day and if we want our politicians to change, we have to change first.
Morgan, Woking, UK

We just choose the best alternative out of bad options
Milimo, Lusaka
How can anyone trust a politician? We just choose the best alternative out of bad options. Politicians are the same whether in Africa, Europe or wherever. It's just that other places have stronger systems in place to check their excesses
Milimo, Lusaka

All politicians say in an election that they will not put up taxes. But once in power they all ways find that there is special exceptional reason why they must either create new taxes or increase existing ones. Basically they lie just to get elected.
Al, London, UK

How many people really know their MP? How can there be trust when all most people know are the policies for which their MP's party they stands for. Trust, therefore, ends up being based on the spokesperson(s) for that party: ie, the party leaders. So, do you trust the party leaders? Their credibility is suspect to say the least.
AP, Edinburgh

The only politicians I have ever trusted are those in opposition. As soon as they're elected, their promises turn to dust. The fact that so many politicians are even now scratching their heads wondering why so many people don't bother to vote amazes me, on the whole they seem utterly out of touch and disinterested in the very people they're supposed to represent. If political decision making wasn't so distanced from the average person in the street, we'd all feel a whole lot better about who we elect to spend our hard earned taxes.
Paul, Colchester

I was wondering if the 2 out of ten voters that trust politicians have actually read a newspaper or watched the television over the last 8 years! If the Lib Dems got in at the next election, would they disappoint us to? Probably... we are in a no win situation, sadly.
James Bridle, Ashford, Kent

The press forces them to be defensive, evasive and reliant on PR
Alan, Sheffield, UK
I sometimes think we don't give them a chance to do positive things. Politics is always uncharted waters. If politicians make a bad choice, we expect them to apologise. But if they apologise, we accuse them of U-turns and incompetence. TV interviewers are always trying to catch out politicians and make them look bad to make news. I think it would be better if they could discuss what they actually think in an open and positive way with the potential to be wrong. Yes, people in positions of power should be accountable and competent. But currently the press forces them to be defensive, evasive and reliant on PR, instead of being able to get on with open and progressive politics.
Alan, Sheffield, UK

Is there anybody who will answer yes to this question? Only last night I said to my wife that this Labour Government must be the most dishonest and incompetent Government in the history of politics in our country. It seems the only trustworthy politicians are either in a party that will never be in power or so low down the ladder that they will never be of any consequence.
Nick, Reading, UK

If voting history is anything to go by, most of the electorate wants showmanship over trustworthiness, anyway. John Major was one of the most transparent and straightforward PMs in living history, and yet he was lampooned as a grey man. Conversely, Blair's bluff and bluster - and carefully-orchestrated body language - seems to fool so many. Interestingly, much of today's economic growth and stability comes from the foundations that the grey man Major laid down after withdrawal from the ERM (except that at that point, we also had pensions that were worth something!).
Lucy, Rugby, UK

I trust my Conservative MP (David Cameron) absolutely. He has shown himself to listen to his constituents and respond to their needs. For me, his party are our best hope for the future of Britain. Do I trust 'New' Labour? No. Their record shows 8 years of mendacity and spin such as we have never previously witnessed. Charles Kennedy? Yes, he seems to be a man of honour, but his policies are a ragbag and not the blueprint for a successful Britain.
Graham Shelton, Oxford, England

Integrity seems in short supply amongst the current Labour and Conservative MPs
John B, Milton Keynes, UK
I do not trust my local (Labour) MPs, they vote according to party loyalty, not for what is right. Yes, I will vote for the candidate who seems most trustworthy. Integrity seems in short supply amongst the current Labour and Conservative MPs so it is time for a change.
John B, Milton Keynes, UK

How can we trust politicians who all make promises, fail to deliver on them and our expectations as individuals and as a nation; cannot answer a direct question without building their reply into another question; spend too much time in criticising their opposition party; do not seem to show at 'the house' unless it is a three line whip; do not listen to the voice of the nation - the demo against the Iraqi war is an example.. still, somebody has to be an MP and as it would seem from the poll they cannot be trusted and we have no better answer to the way things are we will have to live with it and live in hope!
Alan Glenister, Bushey, UK

The current government have repeatedly misled the people of this country
Brian, Newbury, UK
Unfortunately politicians don't do themselves any favours. The current government have repeatedly misled the people of this country, but then no doubt the Tories did before them. Time for electoral reform, perhaps getting rid of the silly concept of "parties" - why shouldn't we vote for "people"? There is no clear ground between the two main parties now anyway.
Brian, Newbury, UK

I'm finding it hard to trust any politician or any political party these days. I don't want to vote for any of the main parties as they are as bad as each other but also do not wish to waste that basic right, it's a Catch 22. I think politicians are in general, self serving ego maniacs who wouldn't know the truth if it came up and bit them. Blair lied over the reason for war in Iraq and for a lot of people that has jaded the already tarnished image of British politicians.
James, England

I think it is unfair to tar all politicians with the same brush. I have never seen any evidence that Charles Kennedy is anything less than honest. He's quite open with his plans to raise income tax, for example. The Lib Dems have also kept out of all the negative campaigning from the other parties. Let's give them a chance before assuming they're as bad as Labour and the Tories!
Dominic Tristram, Bath, UK

Politicians are trained to persuade people to interpret things in their way in the pursuit of the power
Mark, Hull, England
Politicians are trained to persuade people to interpret things in their way in the pursuit of the power of office. In doing so they involve themselves in bending the truth to suit their story. The only thing we can trust about a politician (except perhaps Dennis Skinner!) is that he is not telling the (whole) truth.
Mark, Hull, England

I'm surprised the figure is only 87% who have no faith in politicians. It wouldn't be so bad if they made the effort to lie well but they don't even extend us that courtesy. Time after time politicians are wheeled out to pump the party line, despite the fact we know they are lying to our faces. Message to politicians - just because you keep on saying it doesn't mean we will believe it!
Steve Ivie, Bracknell

Why do we have government at all? It seems to me that the reasons we are given are spurious - they don't 'protect' anyone; they create chaos and make the world I highly unsafe and inefficient place to live in. They waste our money and aren't really accountable as one bad government replaces another. Time for something that works.
Ana, Hartlepool, UK

The bitter truth is that the honest politician hardly wins elections.
Ladi, Bath/UK

Who grows up and says I want to be a politician?
Kathy, Watford, UK
No certainly not. This is being proven by how childish they are becoming in the run up to the election. Labours posters are ridiculous, let's keep this factual and not get emotional. They are supposed to be looking after the country and its people, making the decisions best for them, not what will make them look good. They change their minds like the weather and rarely are honest. Look at the Iraq war. Things are a far cry from even 40 years ago I feel. Who exactly does become a politician nowadays, who grows up and says I want to be a politician?
Kathy, Watford, UK

Trust is a key issue for the coming election. The electorate's trust of politicians was low in 2001, but after the misuse of intelligence over Iraq trust has reached an all-time low. Another Blair term in government could see the end of normal democracy in our Country - people just won't vote.
Gerry, Coventry, Eng

I'm afraid very, very few people believe that there is such a thing as an honest politician. This is a situation they have brought upon themselves by the use of spin doctors and avoiding giving straight answers to questions. The last politician who came anywhere close to being straight with the public was Maggie Thatcher, she said what she thought - even if we didn't always want to hear it!
Terry, Epsom, Surrey, England

I started writing a response to this but got so angry at the whole mess that is our current 'democracy', I got disillusioned and switched off. Me and half the country!
Craig, UK

I think what is more important is "Is the media trustworthy?"
Liz
I think what is more important is "Is the media trustworthy?". Having said that, the picture of Michael Howard at the top of this page shows exactly how I feel about whether I'd trust him!
Liz

To answer Liz's question "Is the media trustworthy?": No - media organisations, including the BBC, 'spin' when required to further their own agendas.
Alex Sellars, London, England

The mistrust is an inevitable consequence of the party whip system which has evolved to replace the election of MP's who will vote according to their conscience in the interest of their constituents. New Labour has raised this distortion of democracy to new levels.
Ken, England UK

Blair - not after Iraq.
Howard - not on your life.
Kennedy - Got nothing to lose by being honest, but would that change if the Lib Dems won the next election?
Gordon, Fife

I feel I do not know politicians enough to trust them, but I do look at competence and their record while in government.
Fiona, UK



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