'Steep' drop in public confidence in MPs, says watchdog


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Public confidence in MPs fell steeply between 2008 and 2010, research by the standards watchdog has suggested.

The percentage of people in England who think MPs are dedicated to working well for the public dropped from 46% to 26%.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life said its survey indicated concerns "with self-serving behaviour" by MPs overshadowed other issues.

The watchdog said it would be "strange" if the expenses scandal had not contributed to public unhappiness.

Four former MPs have gone to prison for expenses fraud while a fifth has been charged but is yet to stand trial.

The watchdog's survey of 1,900 people was carried out in early 2011, 19 months after the MPs' expenses scandal broke.

Although it shows a "long-term decline in public confidence in those holding public office" since 2004, the report says that on many issues, the decline since 2008 has been even "steeper".

It suggests there has been no "bounce" in confidence since the new government came to power - or if there was one it was short lived and died out before the survey was conducted.

"Public satisfaction with the conduct of MPs has declined on every measure except taking bribes since the last survey was conducted," the report said.

Competence concerns


  • Judges - 80%
  • Senior police - 73%
  • TV journalists - 58%
  • Top civil servants - 41%
  • Broadsheet journalists - 41%
  • Local MPs - 40%
  • Ministers - 26%
  • MPs in general - 26%
  • Tabloid journalists - 16%

Source: Committee on Standards in Public Life

Other findings included a drop in the number of people who believe MPs are competent, from 36% in 2008 to 26% in 2010, a reduction in the number of people who think MPs set a good example in their private lives from 36% to 22%, and a fall in those who think MPs tell the truth from 26% to 20%.

Fewer people also think MPs make sure public money is spent wisely.

The public attitudes survey lists 10 qualities considered important in an MP - including being dedicated to doing a good job for the public, not using power for personal gain, telling the truth and owning up when they make mistakes.

But only on "not taking bribes" did a majority of people - 67% - believe that all or most MPs exhibited that quality.

On each of the other nine, fewer than 40% of people interviewed in England believed most MPs had those attributes.

The report says it suggests concerns about bribery, or about "outside influence" on politics "have been overshadowed by concerns with self-serving behaviour on the part of MPs".

Start Quote

The public has a quite straightforward, common sense and relatively sophisticated view of what they want from politicians”

End Quote Sir Christopher Kelly

While the committee says it is not possible to say with certainty what lay behind the trend "it is possible that the expenses scandal has had an impact on people's views and appears to have fed into and exacerbated the long-run trend of increasingly negative evaluations of politicians".

People who supported one of the three main parties were more likely to believe standards were high among politicians.

The young, people from ethnic minorities and those in higher paid jobs tended to have more trust in MPs in general.

The survey was carried out before the latest escalation of the phone hacking scandal - and suggests that confidence in TV news and newspaper journalists has slightly increased since 2004.

In terms of who people trusted to tell the truth, "MPs in general" were ranked higher only than tabloid journalists. However, confidence in "local MPs" was far higher.

'Telling the truth'

Committee chairman Sir Christopher Kelly said the results made "stark reading".

"The public has a quite straightforward, common sense and relatively sophisticated, in my view, view of what they want from politicians and it is things you might expect," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.

"It is telling the truth, it's owning up to mistakes, it's trying to be in touch with what the public think and it's using money wisely; these are the things which the public expect."

He also warned parties not to duck the issue of reforming political funding.

Donations - particularly those of more than £100,000 - were a source of "major concern" to the public, he added, as people believed they led to "special favours" for donors.

"It would be a mistake for anyone to think this issue had gone away," he said.

"I firmly believe that the opportunity it offers to deal with this issue proactively, before another funding scandal forces change, should be taken."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    The majority here have no faith in our MPs, what a surprise. The real thing that hits me in these posts we say we are sick of their lying , cheating, thieving ways, then do nothing about this. People will moan, but you will carry on not voting (idiots) or will vote for the flags(shame on you). Think for yourself, save this country from Party politics, lets kick out the mainstream fools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Love to hear them say, " Politics just dosen't pay enough to make it worthwhile ". While not willingly leaving in droves to effect there displeasure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    I read a science fiction story where the President of a world had to wear an explosive device around his neck in the form of a golden chain of office.

    This was linked to a worldwide computer system where people could register their satisfaction level on an ongoing basis.

    If his popularity dipped below a set percentage, you guessed it!

    Would certainly focus the mind on serving the people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Sorry, but it's two cheers for democracy. There are no infallible people so no infallible systems. It always seems like it's getting worse, even when it's getting better. Pity that a public with democratic rights isn't better educated in the history of how it got to where it is. It will always be a case of muddling along, patching things up as we go. That's democracy under universal suffrage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    Politicians are mainly in it to fill their pockets with cash. Nothing to do with serving the country. It's about protecting the status quo. Do they answer questions yes or no, it's always let us look at it this way or some other protraction from the issue. The expenses issue did not help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    How can anyone have faith in these representatives that change political veiws at a whim in pursuit of power. Who fail to answer even the simplest of questions with a straight answer.Our so called democratic system will always cater to the middle ground, no-one will ever be able to take swift and drastic action to deal with problems. The bank report highlights this , changes coming about in 2018??

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    The House of Commons appears to be populated by career politicians who have had minimum (if any at all) exposure to the real world. Until they get some work experience of the world outside politics, the population in general, certainly the older voter, will not trust them to do a good job. There was a time when MP's could relate to people. That appears to be a disappearing trait.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    There are probably at least a hundred or so decent, hard-working MPs but a combination of tyranical UK Governments of Thatcher and Blair led to control-freakery and fear of not toe-ing the party line. As a Scot I can say Scottish MPs are among the worst at putting their own self-interest before Scotland, hence why a majority voted for an SNP Scottish Government demanding more powers for Edinburgh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    The lib-dems are a prime example of what happens when you get a sniff of the butchers apron all principles are thrown out to get their noses in the trough nobody should ever believe a lib-dem again at election time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    Witness what happened when Mps were let off the leash during the News international scandal. They were queueing up in the commons to voice their contempt for the Murdoch organisation. Before then not a whisper from the majority of them.

    I have nothing but contempt and disgust for the majority of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    "Trust in politicians was shaken by the 2009 expenses scandal"

    Maybe so, but that deteriorating trust is also a constant chipping away due to so much waste, incompetance & negligence.

    We didnt need Wikileaks to tell us politicians are 2 faced, saying 1 thing in public another in private. We ALREADY KNEW they smarm upto likes of Murdoch & others, Politicians think WE are stupid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    Tabloid journalists - 16%
    And people still buy The Sun, The Mirror, The Star, The Express and the Daily Mail!
    I think this may say more about the UK.
    Stupid alert…Stupid alert….

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    Yet we forget it all & elect them again & again!
    Unfortunately, whoever you vote for, they're always a politician!
    Until there is a 'none of the above' box to tick on voting forms, there isn't a way to register that you wouldn't trust any the alternatives to open a tin of beans... You either spoil your form, or don't vote, neither of which have any impact on the results.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    I have to be fair - my MP responds promptly and reassures me that he is doing all he can. I even get photocopied letters as evidence. He might be one from a handful, that actually do their very best. The current front bench are a disgrace. They are self serving, self centred and govern only for the wealthy of the UK. How many have had to take a bag of 5p coins to a shop to buy a few groceries?

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    You cannot have confidence in or respect for those who dictate moral behaviour to the people while they themselves put themselves above such morality. Respect is a two way street and MPs have shown nothing but distain for those who put them in power. And no party is exempt from such behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    All I have to do is hear Ed the lame duck Miliband or the Ed the lame duck Balls speak & my views of politicians go down.

    These are supposidly our alternative choice.

    What we need to do is get addicted to eating deep fried slugs, then slug population will be decimated thus fewer slimey slugs in Parliament leaving their slimey devastation trails everywhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    I'm stunned. 26% still don't realize they are all thieves, liars, murderers and perverts?? Frankly I hate the lot of them, self-righteous, pretentious vermin who smile to the public when in truth being in politics is just a career choice, they'll serve their masters in big business and get a nice cushy job at the end of it.

    Bring on the revolution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    The power of MPs should be significantly reduced.
    Out of touch, career politicians have been a disaster for the country.
    Use technology to spread the decision making process to regionally accountable specialists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    Take politics away from M.P.'s. We elect an MP who will in turn elect the PM et al on merit. Each MP will take each question to the constituency and ask how we would like him to vote (internet should make this workable). MP is to be shadowed by 6 advisors, one unemployed, one ethnic, one low paid with kids etc. MP to take polygraph at year end to declare years honest activities. No business links.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    191. laughingman

    With all due respect, I think that merely reducing the issue down to party politics or individual governments is just a regressive step in the debate.


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