A recent opinion poll has found that the Polish President, Bronislaw Komorowski, is the most trusted politician in Poland. Apparently 71% of Poles said that they trusted him. This compares very favourably to the results for the levels of trust enjoyed by either the Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, or Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the opposition Law and Justice party, both of whom only managed to inspire trust in 32% of voters. The second most-trusted Polish politician was the Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski who was trusted by only 45% of those surveyed. The figures themselves are neither here nor there, the more interesting question being why politicians enjoy so little trust amongst the wider population.
This is, of course, not only a Polish problem – across Europe and beyond politicians are held in increasing contempt. While many are worthy of little better, the general and understandable cynicism of the electorate is, in the longer term, very dangerous. As folk become ever more frustrated and detached from the political process, democracy itself is undermined which in turn leads to extremism and extra parliamentary action. As I wrote here in Things to Come, there are some parallels with the 1930s the most recent example of a Europe wide disenchantment with political class. Indeed, it is the existence of a political class which lies at the root of the problem.
Until relatively recently certainly in the United Kingdom – Mrs. Thatcher’s first government was perhaps the last to which this applied – politicians were motivated by a sense of public duty and a desire to serve. Many had successful careers elsewhere and so were dependent on politics either to define themselves of for their incomes. This lead to a natural inclination to act in what they considered to be the national interest. Thus, again in the UK context, the last man to resign on a question of honour, was Mrs. Thatcher’s first Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington. The invasion of the Falklands Islands was, in his eyes, a failure of foreign policy or diplomacy and therefore as the minister ultimately responsible resignation was the only course open to him. Needless to say, since then ministers have resigned with the utmost reluctance whatever the evidence of their departments’ or their personal failings. And over the same period we have seen the rise of the “professional” politician – typically somebody who enters politics with little or no experience of the real world, having bridged the period between university and election with a number of jobs on the periphery of politics, as a special adviser to a minister, for example and wholly dependent on what he can get out of politics. These folk simply cannot afford not to be re-elected. With their allies in the media and the other beneficiaries of public patronage the interests of the new political class are wholly at odds with those of the electorate who have to foot the bill for their insatiable appetites for taxpayers’ money.
Ironically, dependent as they are on the public purse for personal succour, these folk do not have even the vestigial gratitude actually to listen to what the electorate tell them, spending instead each day closeted with the lobbyists of whatever minority interest is shouting the loudest at the time. Government policy increasingly eschews common sense leaving the electorate exasperated and the country worse off. A good example is climate change and green energy. The EU sets targets which some EU countries try to meet resulting in the removal of manufacturing to China – a country noted for many things, not least environmental destruction – so that we have the bizarre result of the slaves of China selling goods to the unemployed of Europe who are no doubt delighted to be poor but rejoicing in the knowledge that they did their bit for the environment. In other words, EU factories which employ EU citizens are environmentally bad but if those factories are in China we will simply look the other way. Or, in the UK, increase the foreign aid budget but make service men and women redundant to save money. Madness.
Be that as it may, the electorate is not wholly without blame. For years folk have gone into elections swallowing the snake oil promises of the politicians who attempt to bribe them with their own (or their neighbour’s) money without pausing to think how these promises could possibly be even remotely honoured. But this does not wholly explain the lack of trust which I think goes beyond the suspicion (or even the reality) that politicians are feathering their own nests. The question is whom the politicians are really representing. Themselves is the simple answer – itself a break with the British experience – but it increasingly appears that politicians owe their collective loyalty to the political class as whole rather than to the electorate or, indeed, to any particular country. Hence the political class’s enthusiasm for international bodies, of which the EU is good example. Free from the constraints of elections and accountability they can give full reign to whatever nonsense the lobby groups come up with safe in the knowledge that if all else fails a lucrative post in Brussels (or Washington if you are French and fancy being head of the IMF) awaits.
Once upon a time putting foreign interests before that of one’s own country would have been though treasonable but in the words of Sir John Harrington, a courtier during the reign of Elizabeth I: ”Treason doth never prosper for if it prospers, none dares call it treason”. In their apparent loyalty to something beyond their own nation, we appear to have now a political class which resembles nothing so much as the eighteenth century Polish nobility. It didn’t do any good then and it won’t now. Trust the man? By all means, but the politicians – caveat emptor.