On Tuesday, the House had a question for short debate (QSD) on the recent report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) on its survey of public attitudes towards standards in public life. The survey reflects a continuing lack of confidence in politicians, as distinct from institutions. The debate was initiated by the new chair of the CSPL, Lord Bew. There were so many speakers that each, other than Lord Bew and the minister, had three minutes. The debate can be read here.
In my three minutes, I argued that ensuring that maintaining standards, as embodied in the Code of Conduct, is necessary but not sufficient to ensure high levels of trust. The necessary conditions have yet to be met. As for the sufficient conditions, we need a bottom-up and a top-down approach. The bottom-up approach is through devoting resources to citizenship education and also ensuring there are incentives for head teachers to take it seriously. The top-down approach is to ensure leadership on the part of politicians, moving away from acting on the basis of focus groups or passing bandwagons. The parties also need to get out of the cycle of trying to out-bid one another. Restoring trust lies not in institutional change. It’s not the institutions that are the problem, but rather the people who occupy them. Once we recognise that, we are at least taking the necessary step to addressing the problem