Don’t bother to read this, because you probably won’t believe a word of it. That is unless you belong to the 21 per cent of the public who trust journalists to tell the truth, according to the latest Ipsos MORI Trust Poll.
But even we lying, drunken, sleazy hacks do better than politicians, who come bottom of the poll at 18 per cent. That is a terrifying number, which helps to explain another terrifying number: the turnout at the Eastleigh by-election. Here was a sensationally exciting election, with the two Coalition parties standing against each other and the result impossible to predict. And the turnout just managed to stagger above 50 per cent. It is not easy to believe that we live in a healthy democracy.
Here are some more figures. Top of the poll come doctors (trusted to tell the truth by 89 per cent), teachers (86), scientists (83) and judges (82). So far so good. Then come a strange pair: television news readers (69) and clergy (66). The police are trusted by 65 per cent and civil servants by 53 per cent.
Hang on a minute. No doubt the police and civil servants are, by and large, worthy of our trust. Most of them work conscientiously for the public good, and society could not function without them. But if you love liberty, do not forget that these are the people who wield the coercive power of the state. In fascist and communist regimes it is the police and the civil service who work the machinery of tyranny.
Allow me to remind you of how our great unwritten constitution is supposed to work. Taxation cannot be levied without the approval of the House of Commons – that has been so since the 15 century. So the Queen’s government cannot do its job without the approval of Parliament. MPs, who represent the people, thus have the power to hold the executive – ministers, civil servants, the whole apparatus of the state – to account. Hence the grillings ministers and civil servants get at the hands of Commons select committees.
So, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? What stops us succumbing to fascism? Whose job is it to make sure that you, an innocent citizen, cannot have your property arbitrarily seized by the Government; cannot be banged up in a police cell and tortured for opposing that government – as people still can be in many countries. In our system, those duties fall primarily on the judges and MPs.
The judges seem to be in good shape (trusted by 82 per cent). But I submit that in a country where police officers and civil servants are trusted more than politicians – about three times as much in fact - civil liberty is nothing like as secure as it ought to be.
Do we need better politicians, or do we need better to appreciate the ones we have?