Will the next Prime Minister rebuild trust in politics? Not from what we’ve seen

2 September 2022 | Will Moy

Boris Johnson was ousted, in part, because fewer and fewer members of his own political party trusted him. So we were hopeful that anyone aiming to replace him would put political trust, integrity and honesty at the top of their agenda.

During the televised debates over the summer, Rishi Sunak told voters that trust “means telling you the truth, and even when that’s not easy”, while Liz Truss emphasised that you “have to be honest with the public''. 

But as the leadership contest progressed, it became clear that neither candidate was serious about rebuilding trust in politics. 

At a time when we are facing an economic crisis, when people are scared that they can’t afford to feed their families or heat their homes this winter, it’s not enough to simply say honesty matters. Our leaders need to earn our trust.

Next week our new Prime Minister will speak directly to the UK public for the first time, rather than Conservative party members. An overwhelming majority of voters believe that honesty in politics matters. And they have been let down by what has unfolded over the summer.

Instead of trust and accountability, what we have seen is a frenzied series of claims aimed at chasing headlines. Both candidates have promised us the Earth, but we know very little about how either would tackle the growing economic crisis.

We have seen Ms Truss blame the media for misrepresenting policies taken directly from her own campaign’s press release. And in a debate on Sky News, she claimed that she had “always been clear that the travel advice is that British people should not go to Ukraine”. But this isn’t true.

Back in February, she appeared on BBC One's Sunday Morning programme discussing her support for those travelling from the UK to Ukraine to fight. Her exact words were “I do support that, and of course that is something that people can make their own decisions about”. This contradicted official Foreign Office advice at the time.

Over the course of his campaign, Mr Sunak has inflated his track record in government. He claimed  that as Chancellor he oversaw the largest increase in the defence budget since the end of the Cold War. That is something the government claimed in 2020, when it announced a £6.2 billion rise in defence spending in cash terms over the next four years from 2020/21. But it’s a claim Full Fact has struggled to verify. Due to how accounting methodology has changed, it’s very difficult to make accurate comparisons over time.

None of this is honest politics. Our new Prime Minister will enter Number 10 without making a clean break from the false and uncorrected claims of their predecessor.

There is simple action the next PM can take to show they take honesty seriously. Too few MPs are currently willing — or able — to correct the official record when they make mistakes in Parliament.

In just three months, over 30,000 people have signed our petition to change the rules of the House of Commons to fix Parliament’s broken corrections system. We need a leader who will set high standards and support efforts like this to ensure honest politics.

Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak will enter Number 10 as Prime Minister next week. If they are serious about winning the next general election, it’s now on them to prove they take public trust seriously. 

Photo credit: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC, OGL v1.0OGL v1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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