Thinking For The Individual

Formerly known as 'Thinking For The People', this site offers some reflections on the state of British society and her people from the perspective of a libertarian Conservative with a passionate belief in the pillars of freedom and responsibility.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Politics Of Trust

There can be little doubt that trust is the decisive issue in any electoral campaign. No political party in living memory has ever been elected to govern with a decisive mandate in this country without the having the trust of the British people to run the economy. The Conservatives were kicked out of office in 1997 after scandal upon scandal which made the people inevitably lose faith and trust in their ability to govern. In 1979, the people refused to back Jim Callaghan's Labour government after it took the country down a perilous path and into a serious economic downturn, not to mention the Winter of Discontent. Trust in a political party to run the economy and govern honourably and well is the decisive issue in any electoral campaign, and is the foundation without which any elaborate manifesto will fall to pieces.

If the Conservative Party wishes to return to government soon, we can only do so if we are trusted. Trust is the one weapon we need in our arsenal, and it is one of the very few weapons that we can only attain through our own behaviour and our own efforts, and one that we can lose at any moment.

Trust is key to our future as a political party.

However, a radical Conservative platform might turn the issue of trust into something different: a pledge to the people, rather than their feeling for us. A radical Conservative platform would be plain with the British people, and we would get out on the high streets up and down our country, and tell them, "We trust you!"

No mainstream political party trusts the British people with their own lives right now. No political party trusts parents and teachers with the education of children, because all of them are seeking little or no fundamental reform of the structure of state education. No political party trusts patients and doctors with healthcare, because all of them are seeking no fundamental reform to the National Health Service. Indeed, this Labour government is moving in the opposite direction. Labour has no trust in smokers to be responsible with their behaviour in public places. Labour has no trust in parents of toddlers, because they want to provide something they term 'affordable childcare' in a big State network of nurseries and playgroups. Labour has no trust in the British people.

And that is where a Conservative vision for Britain can provide something different. If we trust parents and teachers with the education of children, if we trust doctors and patients with healthcare, if we trust people with their own affairs, then the Conservative Party will be forever remembered as the only political party which had faith in the people of this country, however much they earned, whatever colour their skin, and no matter how they exercised their freedoms and their responsibilities.

These should be the terms of the debate come the next election. The choice facing voters should be clear: do you want a government which thinks you are too foolish, silly and incompetent to run your own lives, or do you want a government which has respect for your choices, which believes in your capacity and your skills and which has trust in each and every one of you?

I believe that a political party which is ready, willing and eager to trust its citizenry is the one which will not only win a great victory, but which will bring deliverance to the people of these isles and build a stronger society, more at ease with itself, and more eager to achieve great feats.


At 11:41 pm, Blogger Leeds Kerbside said...

Do you think local governments can be trusted to make significant local decisions or should these still be handled by central government?

At 1:31 pm, Blogger James Hellyer said...

I've said before, Mark, that it all depends what kind trust you're talking about.

I think the kind that matters is the trust that you will act in the best intersts of the people. That underpins trust in anything else.

Labour can make mistakes in the NHS, for example, because they earn a good intentions leeway. People know they mean well and so cut them some slack.

The problem we have is that people don't believe we mean well. You could see this at the election where people thought our policies (e.g. the patient passport) were just for the rich.

Somehow we have to convicne people that we mean well and are able to deliver on our promises (the other problem, of course, was that when people did like what the party said, they never believed we would deliver on it).

At 10:53 pm, Blogger Mark O'Brien said...

Kerbside asks whether local governments can be trusted to make decisions. Fundamentally, I would argue that wherever possible, all decisions should be taken out of the hands of any form of government, whether that's local or national. That includes questions of most social policy, but may not be appropriate for planning policy. Where responsibility can't be handed to individuals - or at least, can't be in the foreseeable political and economic climate of the future - I believe that decisions should be taken at as local a level as possible, if we can, making town halls look like bloated models of centralism!! I have written before, in response to the 'Direct Democracy' book, about practical suggestions for how policy can be made at an extreme local level. But even if town halls become almighty, that would be preferable to our present Whitehall-centrist climate, provided an ounce of vitality was injected into local democracy, and provided we developed the kind of society which ranks high the importance of civic pride. Electing local service chiefs for policing or transportation and encouraging stronger local identity would be a step in the right direction. But it's a risk, as it means councils across the country could be run by left-wing lunatics like the young Ken Livingstone. Unfortunately, that's a risk we have to take. If as many decisions as possible are in the hands of the individual and the family, the powers of the next Livingstone would be minimal. And if the next Livingstone did wreak havoc, the strength of civic pride we should seek to recreate will mean that he will be kicked out of office by the people if he does anything wrong.

James, as far as trust is concerned, I think you're absolutely right. This blog article focussed very much on turning on their heads the key ideas of modern western political debate. Too often, electors ask whether they can trust politicians. The aim for libertarians and conservatives in this century, I feel, is for politicians to ask whether they can trust people, and give them some freedom to make their own decisions, some respect for those decisions and some responsibility for them too. Of course, we can't spend four weeks of an election campaign repeating the slogan, "Vote Conservative; we trust you!" as people will say, 'That's nice, but it's not going to make my child's education any better'. The key is to link this idea of trusting people to our policies, by giving schools more trust, more respect, more freedom and more responsibility, by giving hospitals, parents and all those other institutions and individuals who are treated with disdain by a prevailing political consensus which tells them that they are too untrustworthy, unreliable and incompetent to make those decisions. In practical terms, this will mean making all schools independent in their policies, management, etc. even if funding will still be provided by the State (through a voucher, shall we say?). It means giving the same to hospitals and developing an insurance system which gives people more trust, more respect, more freedom and more responsibility to make decisions about how they wish to be treated. It means developing a civil society which gives the affluent more respect, more freedom and more responsibility to become the philanthropists of the twenty-first century, and to give more respect, more freedom and more responsibility to the 'poor' to learn the lifestyle virtues of self-help, independence and indefatigable industry.

In all, it means trusting people. That debate can not be won in days, but over a lifetime!


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