Gambling with voters’ trust

As with any election campaign, a key issue that arises time and again on the doorstep and in TV debates is voters’ trust in politics. Moments like the expenses scandal 15 years ago and Partygate more recently have done untold damage to the public’s faith in our elected representatives, and trust is at a 40-year low.

Conservative Betting Scandal

If voters were beginning to forget past sins, the emergence in the last week of allegations that a number of senior Conservatives, including two candidates and possibly a Cabinet minister, had placed bets on the date of the election have brought sleaze back to the fore at the worst possible time for the Conservatives. Interventions by party bigwigs, including Michael Gove’s comments that the gambling scandal is perpetuating a sense that it’s “one rule for them, one rule for us”, are adding to the feeling that this is a party on the verge of collapse.

Labour’s Trust Challenges

Labour strategists may be delighted that this has fallen into their lap so close to polling day, but a common view heard by colleagues on the doorstep is that “they’re all the same”. While the gambling scandal may have short term benefits for the party hoping to govern, many voters will view these latest indiscretions as simply emblematic of a wider malaise.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party is not immune to questions about its own integrity. Voters have expressed misgivings about how much they could trust Sir Keir Starmer given his support for the then Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in 2019. Starmer has since disavowed almost all of Corbyn’s policy platform and argues that he was campaigning for Labour with absolute certainty that Corbyn had no chance of winning the election – an awkward defence that in a tighter race may have caused Starmer significant difficulty.

Liberal Democrats’ Haunted Past

Sir Ed Davey will be delighted that his stunt-heavy campaign has given the Liberal Democrats a platform to build a very respectable result, so he may have been somewhat stunned to have the party’s infamous election pledge to abolish tuition fees of 14 years ago thrown at him at Question Time on Thursday evening. Having courted young people during that campaign, that betrayal of voters’ trust was and continues to be keenly felt.

Farage and Reform UK

Nigel Farage, the perennial “outsider”, clearly sees himself as the beneficiary of the decline in voters’ trust, accusing the Conservatives of betraying Brexit by failing to implement it “properly” and arguing that blue and red are indistinguishable. For someone who has never had to compromise in government or even sat in Parliament, this is a simple game to play. What’s more, potential Reform voters don’t seem to be put off by the serious holes found in Reform UK’s manifesto. They know Reform UK won’t form any part in government, so, at least for now, it seems the trust voters place in the party can be repaid simply by Farage continuing to be Farage.

Trust is an essential ingredient for a stable and productive politics with which voters and businesses can constructively engage. With not long to go in this campaign, it’s incumbent on all parties to prevent further damage to faith in politics and policymaking, and each new and returning MP will have their part to play.

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