Verity Johnson: To gain our trust, you'll have to earn it

Respect for MPs is at an all-time low, and they’ve no one to blame but themselves

Judith Collins is in sticky territory following the Dirty Politics scandal. Photo / Peter Meecham
Judith Collins is in sticky territory following the Dirty Politics scandal. Photo / Peter Meecham

I could give you a million differences between Auckland and Melbourne. Like how in Melbourne you can walk down the street in your gran's bedroom curtains and people will call you chic.

If you do that in Auckland, people look at you like you're on crack.

But the most noticeable difference is Melbourne's rabid, radical political undercurrent. Melbourne is angry. It's angry with the Murdoch Press, it's angry at refugee policy and, above all, it's angry with Abbott.

In the swirl of antipathy, I went along to listen to Melbourne's federal MP, the Greens' Adam Bandt. I only went because his PA was hot.

Normally I'm as enthusiastic about MPs as I am about tax law. But I was astounded; it was fascinating. It's the only time I've ever heard a politician actually answer a question. He was funny, charming and earnest. You just wanted to like him.

But, just as glittery breathless admiration threatened, a little voice said, "Verity, he's an MP ... "

That thought process cleared and sharpened my pre-election feelings. I previously hadn't understood why, as I wrote a few weeks ago, I was so murkily unenthusiastic about the elections and party leaders. I'd briefly touched on my greater respect for the founders of Lush or The Big Issue. But I hadn't understood why that was the case.

Now I get it. It's trust.

The past 10 years has eroded the respect MPs previously enjoyed on an international and national scale.

Research by the Pew Research Institution found that in 1958, 73 per cent of Americans trusted the Government; these days 24 per cent do. Last year MORI research in the UK found only 8 per cent of people think MPs put their constituents first.

It seems the trust MPs once enjoyed has dribbled away.

Election first-timers like me grew up shouting, "Yes, we can!" with Obama, which soon fizzled into "Ugh, well, apparently we can't."

There was a similar phenomenon in the UK with Tony Blair. Then you add in the UK MPs' expenses scandal, Russia's horrific anti-homosexual laws, and the example of Australia. Australia has a PM who makes Homer Simpson look progressive and sensitive.

Now, in New Zealand, Judith Collins is in sticky territory, and John Key, Nicky Hager and Cameron Slater are tangled together like a surrealist love triangle.

So why would we young voters trust MPs? We'd sooner trust a kitten to train the All Blacks.

The decline in trust has come at an inconvenient time. A 2014 Intelligence Group Survey found that among the millennial generation, young people in their 20s, 64 per cent are looking to make the world a better place through their jobs. This suggests young people are increasingly values-driven and globally minded.

And how are these increasingly aspirational young people going to respond to MPs, whom they don't trust to be so public minded?

They're going to ignore them.

What's more, young people are being raised in an era where to challenge authority is encouraged. We're going to keep asking whether MPs are measuring up. And if we critique them and decide they're falling short, the reaction won't be quiet compliance.

Trust is a slippery thing, and it's difficult to understand how to build it. But we can look at figures that young people like me trust.

People like Mark and Mo Constantine, founders of Lush. Or Bob Geldof, Ian Hislop (editor of Private Eye), John Bird (founder of The Big Issue) and Ray Avery (one kick-ass babe). And what do these people share? Integrity, selflessness and unshakeable values.

So in a political context, trustworthy politicians would have clear values, respect for the public and the country's needs, and the resilience to tirelessly, selflessly promote them.

Of course, staying clear of any shady business with blogs wouldn't go amiss.

MPs once were trustworthy figures, even my tirelessly cynical dad admits that. MPs were once, like priests, symbols of trust and integrity. But years of scandal, combined with increasing access to information, and a more idealistic and demanding public have meant that now they aren't.

And when we have other examples, like the founders of Lush, who've forged images as honest, selfless and value-driven people, why not turn away from MPs to them for inspiration?

MPs need to look to figures like Ray Avery or John Bird for ideas. Otherwise, don't be shocked if young people can't be bothered to vote.

- NZ Herald

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