Politics must change to build trust, says report

Published on Wednesday, 10 September 2014 10:19
Written by Daniel Mason

Political parties must take steps to improve public confidence as few people trust the pledges made by politicians ahead of elections, research by the Institute for Government has found.

Almost two thirds of people surveyed by Populus for the thinktank said they believe political parties break their pre-election promises, while fewer than one in five think politicians are good at explaining how policies will be paid for and implemented.

Just 15% are confident that the parties know how they will carry through their promises when they form a government.

And two thirds of those asked said they would be more likely to vote for a party that demonstrated how it would implement its manifesto pledges.

According to the research, people want politicians to prioritise taking long-term decisions, getting value for money for taxpayers, fulfilling pre-election promises and running government more professionally.

However, currently the public believe political parties are more interested in getting re-elected, political point-scoring and making big media-friendly announcements.

In a programme for effective government published today, the IfG said the incoming administration next May should avoid making spending commitments it could not stick to and plan for a spending review after the election.

It also advised that ministers create special teams or commissions to deal with big issues such as climate change and immigration, away from the "day-to-day pressures" of government "so that they can focus on the evidence and consult on fresh approaches and policies".

Half of the people polled said they feel nobody in government takes responsibility when things go wrong. The report suggests: "By minimising the number of major structural reforms, politicians can focus on small improvements that make a real difference to the quality of services.

"By increasing transparency and competition in public sector markets and outsourcing, accountability for failures in the delivery of complex services will be clearer."

Meanwhile politicians should learn from the experience of coalition government, the IfG said.

"With multi-party systems more likely in the future, working constructively with other parties, setting clear policy programmes and forum for joint-decision making with agreed communications procedures will be crucial."

The report also recommends that parties make "clear manifesto commitments" for decentralising powers to stimulate growth: "Parties will promise to address underinvestment in infrastructure, but to do so they will need better forums for informed decision-making and public debate, as exist in Australia and France."

Peter Riddell, the IfG's director, said: "Whoever takes office in May 2015 will have to govern differently if they want to deliver on their election promises and build public confidence.

"There is a lot that parties can do over the coming months, both in thinking through the implications of their pledges and problems of implementation, and in preparing to be ministers and advisers.

"Crucially, this does not mean a shift to a technocratic or managerial view of government; rather the reverse. Our advice is about how to get the politics right in order to achieve political goals."

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