This 2005 report reviewed the evidence on public attitudes towards MPs and political institutions, and presented findings on MPs' own views of their relationship with voters. It set out a far-reaching agenda for change in the relationship between electorate and the elected in the interests of building public trust and encouraging democratic renewal.
It is not a new phenomenon that the public has a low opinion of MPs. But social and cultural changes are weakening the traditional identities and institutions that bound people into the act of voting and the system of representative democracy, and increasingly replacing them with more individualistic and transactional attitudes.
In most people's minds, modern politics is formal and remote. If it touches their lives, it is generally seen as something that is done to them by an elite they dislike and distrust, operating in institutions that are distant, irrelevant and ineffective.
Civic activism is strong, and this interest and involvement is certainly 'political' in a broader definition. However, political parties and elected politicians are not doing enough to ensure that their politics is connected to the everyday activities and aspirations that are a part of people's lives.
The heart of the argument made in this report is thus that 'politics' needs to be redefined so it is no longer seen as a remote process 'administered' by an exclusive elite but instead as an interactive pursuit connected to the everyday activities and aspirations of the public. There needs to be a cultural shift in politics, led by elected representatives and their political parties. Civic activism needs to be connected with political activism in a broader understanding of politics which is not limited to the party political or the activities of professional politicians.
The relationship between elected representatives and the electorate requires investment from both sides - the latter to take an informed interest and actively offer their views, and the former to take a great deal more trouble to seek, listen and respond to public concerns. Although MPs already face a difficult task in balancing their parliamentary duties with party pressures and constituency casework, to these must be added extra roles: setting out more clearly the service their constituents can expect, better promoting the work they do to hold the government to account and, perhaps most importantly, spearheading the renewal of representative democracy by informing and consulting their constituents about politics in a way that reaches beyond the bounds of most current political debate.
The report suggests steps that could be taken by politicians, Parliament, political parties, the media and the education system to increase public confidence and trust in the job MPs do.
The report was co-authored by Mark Gill, Head of Political Research at the lpsos – MORI Social Research Institute; John Healey MP; and Declan McHugh, Director of the Hansard Society’s Parliament & Government Programme.
The report supplements its review of existing research on public attitudes to political institutions and elected representatives with findings from interviews with MPs across the political spectrum.
Political knowledge, understanding and attitudes
Public perceptions of MPs
The politicians’ perspective