Trust in Pollies

PrinceThe first book I ever worked on was an edited book on trust in politicians. At the time, our publishers (UNSW Press) thought the situation was so bad that the cover image they chose was of one dog sniffing another dog’s backside.*

One of the worst things about the Latham Diaries, in my view, is the risk that they will reduce Australians’ trust in politicians. As I’ve argued elsewhere (PDF), the biggest losers from a general decline in trust in politicians are Labor, since distrust in politicians and small government go hand in hand (Ronald Reagan knew this — which is why he once told an audience that the nine most terrifying words in the English language were "I’m from the government and I’m here to help").

But Howard recognises that distrust in politicians can hurt his side of politics too, and when he took a brief break from point-scoring yesterday, he got it right:

Mr Howard said he hoped people considering politics were not put off by the comments of Mr Latham.

"I remain an optimist and I hope that out of all of this Latham stuff people don’t lose the sense of optimism and a positive view about public life because there are still, on both sides of politics in this country, an enormous number of men and women who are trying very hard all their working life to make things better," he said.

"Now we disagree on how to make things better, but I don’t doubt the sincerity of people on both sides, the great majority, who are trying very hard and living ordinary lives trying to make it better for the country."

* At the time, UNSW Press happily rode roughshod over our objections, assuring us that marketing knew best (I now realise this is a very common approach in the publishing world). Then the Parliamentary bookshop refused to put it on the shelves because they thought the cover was too offensive.

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3 Responses to Trust in Pollies

  1. Guy says:

    I was also quite surprised to see Howard drop the party-political ball for five seconds.

    The Liberal Party is of course the natural party of anti-government voters, and the recent Brogden and Latham sagas would have no doubt added a bit of fuel to their fire.

  2. Sacha Blumen says:

    I wonder why the Parliamentary bookshop thought the cover was offensive? It’s just depicting quite a usual occurrence in dog society…

  3. Andrew – While I can see the logic of your argument here, I am not so sure that this is how it turns out in practice. I wrote a post on this recently ( – how people take a dim view of pollies and government institutions but still say they want government to do more and reject privatisation.

    Personally, I take the opposite view to the general public. I think, on the whole, people who go into politics are significantly more public-spirited than average and equal or better in personal integrity (though perhaps facing more difficult choices, which makes them look worse). However, I think the processes of government are badly flawed (because of the various information and incentive problems free marketeers are always going on about). Therefore, while the people in government are not bad, they should do less.

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