'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 240.

    We will never have democracy and MPs of the people when they vote as they are told by their party instead of way the majority of their constituents want. The Lisbon Treaty for example, surveys point to the majority of GB and other countries do not want to be in the eu.

    If they don't listen what do they expect, as they seem to have forgotten they serve us not the other way round.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Amazing 26% These must be some of the % who hold the wealth and power. Until all the political parties stop being funded by big business we will never get politicians to be honest and work for the good of their constituants many of whom see them as self grabbing, lying individuals more content with nepotism and cronyism than looking towards the good of the ordinary people of this country

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    @188. ak35

    Anyone with the desire to become a politician should automatically be barred from ever being one.
    That sounds very much like a paraphrased 'Douglas Adams' quote about becoming 'Galactic President'.

    Douglas was a very wise & funny man who were he still alive, would have made an amazing Prime Minister.

    Not sure which party though ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    Who on earth believes that being an MP is hard? Pressure? Try telling that to the man who works 70 hours a week to find he just ran out of money when the gas bill came in? Long hours? Tell it to the same man.
    The rest of society manage to live like this and stay honest. Sorry, but still with some respect, don't dare try to defend the indefensible

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Employers in the UK, demand experience in the minutiae (do you have skills in pressing button A instead of button B?), yet most MPs I guess, have little experience and knowledge when undertaking such an important role as running the country. There is the course at Oxbridge that some graduate from, but a dose of real life should be a prerequisite, before embarking on a career in politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    “Britain’s Laziest MP” exposed by ToryBoy The Movie documentary

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    Well they don't listen to us, they lie to us, steal on grand scale from us YET they are able to get away with it with a slap on the hand, NONE of them are any better then COMMON THUGS. They are manipulative self serving hypocritical bunch of thieves that screw us ver when they can, they see us nothing more but a purse! what have they done in ALL these years to want to trust them?? Answer: NOTHING

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    think its quite bizzare that anyone has trust in them @ all, the toryilition has shook my faith in the political system of this country,cant help having that feeling of being cheated a lot of that feeling has arisen from Clegg but given all the hanky-panky & wooly-bully that is & has been giong on then i think that my mistrust applies to them all whatever flag they fly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    And this has come as a surprise to them......... Maybe if they didnt lie, steal, and break promises and tax us to death maybe we would have some faith in them I for one dont trust any of them! which is ashame because I'm pretty sure a handful of them are probably hard working and honest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    226 Mal reynolds. The civil servants of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    Until the voting system actually represents the actual way people vote then who would have any faith in the corrupt system as it stands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    221. BJK

    How many of the critics here have ever been or tried to be an MP?

    I haven't but can imagine that it is a job with many pressures & demands on one's time that can lead to some bad decisions.
    LOL, you mean like deciding to buy the 'Massage Chair' instead of the 'Huge Plasma TV' with your remaining maximum allowance before the annual expenses deadline ran out?

    Decisions, decisions, eh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    The last government were prepared to lie to take the country to war...what greater errosion of trust could there possibly be?

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    I would like to point out that there is an e partition, which will make any election invalid if less than 40% of the elctorate vote. If we all sign it at least we could watch politicians debate this

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Perhaps somebody could explain where our so called leaders do their training? I have never seen a school that teaches how to be a minister of anything. So who exactly runs the country while the MPs are serving their own interests?

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    MP's no longer represent the people us. The parties offer no real choice. Parliament has failed the people again – the expenses scandal proves what we all thought,many MP's of this country are full of self interest and care little about people, 20,000 of which died of cold in one winter, can any civilized Government allow this.? Ours can! Lets buy a duck house!

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Bradford - post 13
    Yes, if MPs led by example and had their public sector pensions reformed, then it would not seem as vindictive and vengeful as it appears. If the goal posts can be moved for one section of society, then they too should have to suffer the same discomfort. Let's face it, we consent to all this nonsense. Anyone with any guts out there? We could orchestrate a new vision for the UK!

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.



    Please do not mistake MP's being fallibility as humans as an excuse to line their own pockets or those of their families and friendly directorial golfing buddies. Fallible is the ability to make a mistake. Genuine mistakes do not include fraud, bribery and corruption. Fallible in anyone else would mean an apology and the act never being repeated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    @201. Tom

    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.
    LOL, "With all Due Respect", a 'political spin' phrase only used when you actually have no respect at all.

    I think that actually proves my point. Their obsession with 'Lies & Spin' has forever degraded UK politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    How many of the critics here have ever been or tried to be an MP? I suspect not many. I haven't but can imagine that it is, for many, a job with many pressures and demands on one's time that can, as the PM observed recently, lead to some bad decisions.

    As they say, don't judge a person until you've walked a mile in their shoes - then they'll be a mile off and you can say what you like.


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