Editorial from the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard
It appears that politicians have never been so distrusted. Their reputation for integrity is zero. Sincerity was never a virtue of that occupation but now, what was once seen as a possible credibility gap has become a great gulf between what they say and the truth. According to a recent Gallup Poll 90 percent of the electorate think that politicians cannot open their mouths without telling lies.
Of course, there is nothing new about politicians making promises which they know they cannot deliver. There is nothing new about governments lying to the public. As lying goes, the present government is only an average performer yet another recent poll shows that John Major, as Prime Minister, has the lowest ratings since polls began. Why is he, and politicians generally, attracting this special contempt?
The Tory government has certainly lost contact with reality. With the social fabric crumbling around them they still think they are building a better society. After 14 years in office, having been driven by a latter-day fervour for the free market, they are now exhausted. They have run out of ideas, are in the grip of failure and have nowhere to go. They cannot see the truth let alone tell it.
Neither does the Labour Party present an alternative. Having abandoned its traditional but illusory claim to be the party of change and having openly dedicated itself to the running of capitalism, it is now speaking the same jaded language as the Tories.
These things are true but they are not an explanation for the apparent dishonesty of politicians. We need to ask further questions about more deeply-rooted causes. The answers show that the public should never have trusted politicians in the first place. The lesson is, trust a capitalist politician and you deserve all you get. Unfortunately, when naive trust turns to disillusion and contempt, by itself this is not enough.
It should always be obvious that politicians want power, which they never get by telling the truth. They function in a world of make-believe in which what they say they can do has almost no connection with real possibilities. In this world of political illusions they pretend that in power they can control events. The reality is that governments spend most of their time reacting to events which they cannot control. No government has ever been able to control the economic conditions of the market system but at the same time no politician has ever gained power by declaring the truth of that fact.
Politicians run the profit system for the benefit of a minority but they do it amidst the widespread belief that they run it in the interests of the whole community. This is the great deception which is the main source of the lies of politicians and governments. Is it not surprising them that the majority of people are alienated not just from politicians but the entire political process.
So, what must be done? As voters we must clean up our own act. We must take on our own powers of responsibility and action. We must stop electing career politicians to run a system which is against our interests. This means using our powers to establish a society which is organized solely and directly for the needs of the whole community through common ownership, democratic control and voluntary cooperation. This will provide an open democracy in which we will be free to make decisions about what must be done whilst at the same time having the powers of action to carry out those decisions. It is only on this basis that a truly democratic administration can work with integrity of purpose simply as one part of the different functions of society.
This will replace the tawdry operation of the capitalist state with its false hopes and broken promises, and its secrecy, deceptions and lies masking its real role as the enforcer of privileged class interests.