What I mean is that, if we didn't trust politicians, our reaction would be: "That's all right, mate. I never believed you anyway." But this reaction - which was mine - doesn't seem to be the majority one. Some people seem to have voted Lib Dem on the strength of their tuition fees pledge, and Clegg's apology has revived their outrage. Insofar as such hostility is genuine, rather than the manufactured offence of our emotionally incontinent age, it is a symptom of people who trusted politicians and feel betrayed, not of those who distrusted them.
This is not the only - or even the main - reason to doubt that politicians are distrusted. At least three things you'd expect to see in a nation of low political trust are weak:
- Falling voter turnout. Yes, turnout is lower than it was in the 60s and 70s. But there are other possible reasons for that than distrust. And turnout has actually risen in the last two elections.
- A strong demand for limited government.If you distrust politicians, you'll want them to do as little as possible. But, like it or not, libertarianism is a nugatory political force. More people say they want higher spending and taxes than lower (though I'm not sure we should believe them on this either).
This poses the question. Could it be that people's claim to distrust politicians is, to some extent, mere cheap talk? People say what they are expected to say. They want to conform to the bar-room cliches that politicians are all in it for themselves and that they are canny enough to see through their lies. But in fact, this is just talk, and more people behave as if they trust politicians than actually say they do.
All I'm saying is that it's not just politicians I distrust. It's the voters as well.