Friday, 23 December 2011

Trust me, I'm a politician!

Trust is a tricky old thing – that headline probably brings out the sense of irony in you (although you don’t know for sure whether or not I actually mean “trust me”). Indeed our default position is, as Martin Vander Weyer points out, more often distrust: is no longer offered, in any sphere, as it used to be; distrust is now the default response. It’s easy to argue that business leaders, especially in the City, have brought this on themselves by behaving greedily and uncaringly. But that’s not the whole story, which is also about social change.

At the core of this is a presiding sense that they’re out to rip us off. Politicians, lawyers, doctors, journalists – the entire panoply of professions – are cynical, driven by personal success rather than by any concept of service. And our mistrust extends further – we see train drivers striking on boxing day and see self-interest rather than a collective response to injustice, we tell tales or teachers or council officers seeing the “strike day” as an excuse for a jolly and we’ve got used to anger at huge bonuses in large firms and big public organisation that seem merely to reward failure or incompetence.

The other day, Jack of Kent pondered on why everyone hates lawyers and concludes that it is the majesty of the law that we fear rather than its agent, the lawyer:

It is perhaps not so much that lawyers are hated, but that law itself is feared and mysterious.

That this is the case is unfortunate, and it is an entirely fair criticism that many lawyers do not do more to promote the public understanding of law.

Of course, barriers to lay understanding can suit the interests of lawyers. Lawyers have no general interest in enabling potential clients to work out their own legal problems.

And, so to that extent, lawyers really only have themselves to blame.

But it isn’t quite so simple – what has happened is that we have stopped trusting lawyers because they are lawyers, doctors simply for the fact of their doctoring and politicians by dint of their elected authority. The brands of these professions are corrupted by our awareness of their failings, our recognition that lawyers, doctors, MPs and other ‘professionals’ will close ranks, will protect their privileges, rather than have those failings exposed.

This is a good thing although we still give too great a credence to the self-interest of the Law Society, the BMA or the ‘senior backbencher’. However the growing doubt as to motive means that trust must be earned. It’s perfectly possible to trust a lawyer, a doctor, even a politician but only in so far as we trust the individual behind the badge.

When I urge you to trust me because I’m a politician, I’m asking you to trust the idea of such a person rather than to trust me. Such heuristics damage society by granting to a given organisation, professional body or political party the power to bestow trust.

You should trust Simon Cooke because he has proven himself trustworthy not because he has the stamp of politician.


No comments: