The importance of trust - by Mark Simmons

Yesterday’s referendum highlights why we at Cord do what we do. We believe in democratic participation, and we also believe that this must be underpinned by trust, not fear. Without trust between the public and those who are elected or even self-appointed to represent or lead them, disastrous things can happen. We saw this with the Ebola crisis in 2014-15, when official government information about avoiding physical contact was ignored not because it was wrong – it was entirely accurate – but because people did not trust the people who disseminated it. We saw the same last night.

Sunderland voted overwhelmingly last night to leave the European Union. Why did they, along with many others, vote for their cost of living to go up and their employment prospects to go down? Did they believe the lie painted on the Brexit battle bus (and printed in their literature)? Did they disbelieve the overwhelming evidence that a UK outside the EU would be poorer and less influential? Were they answering a different question? Or were they basing the decision on the level of trust they felt for those providing this information?

I had an enlightening chat with someone in the pub on Wednesday night. He was surprised to hear about the high regard in which the UK is held by the rest of Europe, which almost always votes the UK’s way. He had not realised that decisions are made by the national governments of member states, rather than by an unelected elite. He had conflated migration from outside the EU – to which he largely objected – with migration from inside the EU – to which he largely did not. He had not realised that the financial benefit of EU membership outweighs the cost tenfold. He had built up a false picture of the EU institutions, and simultaneously a false hope in the UK’s democratic process – in which a party which won 24% of the vote currently has an overall majority in the Commons.

The EU – and Her Majesty’s Government –have done little to set the record straight, and perhaps if they had he would not have trusted their findings anyway. In this referendum, it has been much more about who said what, rather than what they said – or, as we will soon find out – why.
Let us hope that if nothing else positive derives from this result, the people will be aware of their rights and responsibilities, civil society will be better able to meet the needs and respond to the perspectives which inform those views, and we will end up with a political system rooted in mutual accountability and trust, in which lies and personal ambition have no place.