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Leader comment: Public trust must be nurtured

28 June 2024

SURVEY results released last week, concerning trust in the UK, suggested that universities were among the most trusted institutions, followed closely by the BBC. The poll (produced, coincidentally, by a university and covered by the BBC) placed politicians very near the bottom of the list, adjacent to national newspapers. The Church was not on the list — because, we hope, respondents were not asked about it, rather than because trust was so low that it failed to register.

Yet, the new General Synod paper from the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich (Online news, 24 June) makes this latter possibility easy to imagine. The report is a difficult read. It records a high level of distrust in almost every relationship in the Church of England — which is all the more remarkable, given that the interviewees were nominated by the bishops, and archdeacons predominated. The report suggests reasons for the lack of trust in different aspects of the hierarchy: “unawareness of and abuse of power; lack of clarity of roles and expectations, and of accountability; challenge of trusting across deep theological differences held with integrity; lack of attention to personal and role boundaries, including around confidentiality; lack of clarity and transparency about decision making processes,” and so on. But the report also includes a reminder that trust is a two-way process: one factor in the breakdown of trust, it says, is that people have become untrusting, and not only in response to others’ untrustworthiness. It notes, too, in passing, that placing trust in people can encourage them to live up to that trust.

Next week, the electorate, 79 per cent of whom say that are dissatisfied with the way in which the UK is being governed, will be asked to place their trust in a set of candidates most of whom have not had an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to govern better. What is feared most by the political parties — and by everyone who supports a working democracy — is that many in the electorate will conclude that they trust no one and will, therefore, vote for no one. We find ourselves returning to an observation made just before the election was announced (Leader comment, 17 May): that the electorate should take responsibility for their part in the country’s ills. At the most basic level, many of them voted for the outgoing Government; a few contributed to the unelectability of the Labour Party; and yet more, by espousing ill-informed causes, have encouraged mainstream politicians to have regard to populist viewpoints (and to avoid other serious topics, such as the UK’s relationship with the EU). No political leader will say this on the campaign trail, but if voters accept responsibility for the country’s past, they are more likely to assume responsibility for its future.

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