After hearing a speech given by a Member of Parliament recently in London, a couple of questions came to mind, though there wasn't time in the Q&A to ask on the night. I therefore wrote this person the following email:
I wanted to express my gratitude to you for speaking so eloquently last night at the [ ]. The talk was informative but also hilarious. I had two questions that I wanted to ask you but there wasn't time last night. These are in relation to political capital. Do you think that the public perception of politicians in Westminster has improved since the expenses scandal? Do you consider the public's trust of politicians important and if so, what can be done to improve this? Secondly, in general, how do you think the political class view the citizens of the UK? Did you ever see the episode of The Thick of it when Hugh Abbot gives his opinion of the public? It would be funny were it not true But is it true for a high proportion of MPs? I think that when there's mutual disdain between the electorate and their representatives, we have a very serious problem indeed. I'd hate to see the UK go the way of America in this regard.
This MP's assistant replied on his behalf. The MP pointed me to the Hansard Society's annual Audit of Political Engagement which looks into matters such as these. In the most recent report, the Audit 'depressingly' concluded that 'the results are...strongly indicative of public opinion. They reflect the downward trend in public attitudes to standards found in earlier studies.' See page 55 of the report!
With regard to my question about how politicians view constituents, the MP wanted to reassure me that he holds the public in the 'highest regard' and though he couldn't speak for his fellow parliamentary colleagues, he felt that the vast majority hold a similar perception of the public.
The MP also referred me to the analytical work of Professor Phil Cowley and Dr. Rosie Campbell from September 2013 which suggests that those who have contact with their local MP are likely to have a 'marginally more generous opinion of him or her than those who have not.' Direct contact, this MP surmises, between the electors and the elected can help 'bridge the gap between perception and reality.' So in conclusion, the MP disagreed with my impression that constituents and politicians hold each other in mutual disdain, though he believes that this situation has room for improvement through MPs ensuring that the voices of their constituents are heard in Parliament.
The MP concluded his note with the statement that 'it is, of course, impossible to please everybody all of the time, but this is a fact of life, not just of politics.' I agree, of course that's true. But it would please far more people if we felt that politicians behaved more transparently and did fewer horse trading deals with powerful individuals and sectors at our expense. We're just asking for politicians to act in the best interests of the majority of the British people over the long-term. That would go further to repairing the damage of scandal after scandal.