Deceit is the real constitutional crisis

By Jill Segger
October 29, 2015

Deceit takes many forms. The outright lie, the partial truth, concealment, the broken promise. The common factor is almost always a desire to gain advantage. If the advantage is sufficiently seductive, the broken trust – if considered at all – is usually dismissed as collateral damage.

All the above behaviours have been on view over cuts to tax credits and it seems astonishing that a confected 'constitutional crisis' regarding the Lords has been permitted to camouflage the lack of integrity displayed by government.

From David Cameron's pre-election promise not to cut tax credits, via Michael Gove's response to a question (also before the election): “No,we are going to freeze them for two years; we are not going to cut them”, to George Osborne's post-election insistence that these cuts – without being mentioned – were “signalled” in the Conservative manifesto, the intention to deceive is clear. Had the Conservatives made plain their intent to make over three million low-paid working people worse off by an average of £1300, they would of course, not have won the election.

Maybe our strange combination of scepticism about the integrity of politicians and relative tolerance of political falsehood is being broken down. The angry, tearful Tory-voting woman in last week's Question Time audience who railed at Amber Rudd because she was going to be made poorer by George Osborne's cuts, illustrated perfectly the truth of Martin Niemoller's warning: “first they came for...”. It may not have been attractive, but it was a reminder that though it may take time to be recognised by those who thought themselves safe, there is a limit to the cynicism with which politicians can treat their electorates.

Politicians are generally held in low esteem. The fallout from the expenses scandal has left a default position of suspicion which some are prepared to put on the back burner so long as they are generally getting what they want from government. But there is a now a sense abroad that the Tories have cheated their way into power. This is arguably the real constitutional crisis.

The tendency to say one thing but to do another is not uncommon in politics. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats in coalition did it with university tuition fees. But to introduce a policy so blatantly at odds with pre-election promises is a new and game-changing low. To so quickly break promises on which a government is elected will not be without cost. People who had so far been little affected by welfare cuts and austerity are now beginning to understand their vulnerability and many of them belong to the 'hard-working families who do the right thing and play by the rules' demographic so beloved of Conservative propaganda.

Maybe it is time to think beyond the outrage which suits a ruling party and focus on that of the electorate. Instead of the 'rapid review' which is Cameron's response to being delayed by the Lords, we need a consideration of possible penalties for deceiving your way into government. The automatic triggering of a general election perhaps?

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

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