Trust and Power

24 May 2009

I have been trying to put my finger on why I feel so outraged at what we’ve learnt about those MP’s who appear to have abused their expenses. Set against so much wickedness in the world, their behaviour is certainly wrong and needs to be addressed, but it needs to kept in proportion when we live in a world where daily there are stories of abuse, violence and criminality which destroys people. Why is it that so many of us feel outraged as this story about the MPs unfolds?

Is it because this isn’t just another story of expenses being fiddled, but is far more about the trust which lies at the heart of the British democratic system being abused? When we go and vote, we trust an individual to represent our best interests. We give power through the ballot box and we trust those who represent us (even if we didn’t vote for them) to be worthy of the power which they have been given. I think that I am outraged because, in a healthy society, power and trust go hand-in-hand. When the trust is abused, then what about the power?

How people use power is a moral question. The Christian faith is founded on an individual whose power was to be found in vulnerability and service. Because of our history, the Christian story has shaped the British approach to politics – vulnerability to not being re-elected and election being to the service of all  people and not just your supporters. It is an approach to politics which is so different to those worst expressions of politics, where power is taken for self-interest and is used against one section or group.

I think this why I feel so outraged at the expenses fiasco – because floating duck nests, moat clearing and non-existent mortgages do not reflect vulnerability and service. They undermine the trust which is so central to British democracy. We have to be able to trust those we vote for to use their position for the good of each and every section of our society no matter who they are, who they voted for, where the come from, their colour or their creed. Essentially, we have to be able to trust those we vote for to be moral in what they do once elected, trust them to use their power in a moral way and to be worthy of our trust – then they can be described as ‘honourable’.

First published in the Cleethorpes Chronicle May 2009