Here are the percentages of people who say that they ‘trust’ different professions:
Doctors: 92; Teachers: 88; Professors: 80; Judges: 75; Clergy/Priests: 75; Scientists: 72; TV News Readers: 66; the Police: 61; the Ordinary Man/Woman in the Street: 56; Pollsters: 51; Civil Servants: 48; Trade Union Officials: 41;Business Leaders: 31; Government Ministers: 22; Politicians in General: 20; Journalists: 19.
Note that Doctors, Teachers and (amazingly) Professors do well, Government Ministers and Politicians in general badly – almost as badly as Journalists. You might say that this is no surprise, given the 2009 expenses scandal, but these are in fact data from Ipsos-Mori from 2006, before we’d ever heard of duck ponds and moats. The effect of expenses was to push politicians below journalists, but it was not as if they were falling from a great height.
There’s a voluminous (and growing) literature looking at why we have such a low opinion of politicians. In all of this, we sometimes miss one crucial distinction (one of many, really) between politicians and these other professions. It is that politicians are the only ones engaged in systemically attacking and criticising the others, as an integral part of their profession.
You saw a good example of this yesterday, when the latest set of parliamentary expenses were released. A constant complaint from the political class is that – whilst they accept that much of the behaviour in the past was wrong – many perfectly legitimate claims can be made to look bad. They ask, constantly, for a more level-headed, and fair, discussion of what constitutes legitimate expenditure.
Yet yesterday the Conservative Press Office put out four tweets (from @ToryPressHQ), helpfully pointing out Labour MPs who had either had claims rejected or had made what could (on the face of it) look like embarrassing claims.
One of these claims involved Chuka Umunna, the MP for Streatham, and his claim for around £40 for loo roll and soap. Frankly, I found it a relief to discover that the saintly Mr Umanna ever did something as vulgar as having a poo. But more generally, this is a claim for the running of his office – and so we assume that his staff will occasionally need to go to the loo. Or, as the Lib Dem blogger Mark Pack pointed out, does this mean that at Conservative Campaign Headquarters, staff are expected to supply their own loo roll? This is, to be fair, quite a lot of toilet paper (Sainsbury’s do nine rolls for just under 4 quid, and liquid soap for a pound a bottle), but Umunna is clearly a Safety First man, determined never to run out.