Policy, campaigns & research

“Trust Daddy!” The theme of this General Election?

DSC’s Policy Trustee Andrew Purkis examines the patronising approach from the major political parties in the General Election campaign so far.

In his first major interview the day after the General Election was announced, the Prime Minister gave an extensive interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme (Tuesday 23 May) which I would summarise as: You can trust me. I have a plan and I can fix Britain.  

He mentioned in support his Furlough Scheme,  improvements in the economy, and his determination to push through the Rwanda scheme. We’d be in good hands and could be confident Rishi knew the detail and would manage everything well for us. 

It left me feeling that we were being asked to Trust Daddy: we didn’t seem to have a role. Just leave it to the grown-up in Number 10. 

This was the start of a “Trust me” bidding war between the two main parties. I’ve fixed the Labour Party, so now I can fix the country: trust me!” is the message from Daddy Keir. Trust me, I’ve worked at the Bank of England, I’ll insist on financial discipline and I know how to fix the economy, says Mummy Reeves.  

We recall that the first iteration of Labour’s five missions excluded virtually all mention of civil society as being at all relevant to a programme of national renewal. Despite encouraging discussions with civil society since then, have they reverted to this mindset? 

The problems with the “Trust Daddy” framing is twofold. The more someone feels the need to keep saying “Trust Me”, the more it feels as if they are protesting too much, because they know most people don’t trust them. Trust is earned by who you are, what you do, the values and behaviours you display, not by verbal protestations. They just draw attention to the trust deficit. 

The second problem is that it marginalises and even infantilises us, the electors, the people, and reinforces the assumptions of a highly centralised, top-down British State. The assumption is that if we face big problems as a nation, the most effective leader in Westminster and Whitehall will fix it. 

Is there a problem with fly-tipping (one of today’s examples as I write)? – well, vote for the party that has a super new central Government policy to fix it (as if the crucial issue is not the ability of local authorities to enforce the laws that already exist in theory)! 

To be fair, in other parts of their rhetoric, the Labour Party talks of partnership with business (in relation to growing the economy) and Sir Keir Starmer has talked during the Election Campaign of “so much potential up and down the country” to be “unlocked” with a Labour Government at the helm. Some of the smaller parties are less centralising in their approach. I hope we can hear more of that framing from all the political parties.  

For one thing is certain, as some of the parties acknowledge some of the time:there will be no effective national renewal, no effective solutions to the challenges facing the country, without mobilising the talents and enthusiasms of the people, in their localities and communities, in their workplaces in all sectors, in their local authorities, and in all the diversity of civil society. We are not just children to trust Mummy and Daddy to fix things from the centre. Indeed, we know they can’t fix many things from the centre, which is partly why we distrust them when they pretend they can. 

Message to election campaigners: please can we have less of the “Trust Daddy”, and a bit more of “We trust you, local people, organised in civil society and local institutions, to have more power and agency. YOU will lead a programme of national renewal, if we set the right framework, to empower you and work with you.”  

Perhaps then trust in a future Government might be greater than it has been hitherto?