Finding an honest politician is like finding hen’s teeth, unicorns, the holy grail … you get the idea. No one expects the noise made in the electoral process to be mirrored by the actions in office. Well, that’s not strictly true – for a brief period of time when all the hoopla is going on people can convince themselves that something is going to change, but then when someone gets in office and the perception is that nothing that was talked about is being acted upon, no one is really surprised.

There is an idea that even if someone starts out honest that the system corrupts them. How can you be surrounded by all those lobbyists, private interest groups and kickbacks, and not allow yourself to become compromised? Even the beatified JFK loses some of his sheen when people start digging beneath the surface. It’s disappointing. I remember voting for Blair partly because of his stance on students loans, and because he seemed to offer an alternative to the Conservatives, but my memory is that I and my fellow students were betrayed. This might be partly explained away by a heavy dose of idealism and perhaps some political naivete on my part, but people who vote again and again seem to fall into the same trap. Obama’s Hope became barely cope for some, apparently.

“He’s an honest politician–he stays bought.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

In the UK David Cameron and his party got in the first time as a hung parliament. The most recent election there were reports of electoral fraud – the 13 seats claimed by the Conservatives, which they won by, were won by candidates who broke electoral laws that cap local spending on campaigns, by pulling from the coffers for the national campaigns and then not declaring it. Cameron’s Big Society speech delivered little, as public expenditure cuts attacked the very things that would have worked to bring the vision about. Public healthcare suffered, libraries were closed left right and center, and public parks fell into disrepair. There were other equally illustrative examples of how the austerity drive Cameron initiated went against his plans for Big Society.

But this is apparently not the case, at least according to this article: Trust Us Politicians Keep Most Of Their Promises where research has been carried out to demonstrate that politicians do actually keep their promises.

Why is the perception otherwise? Are people misremembering the election promises? Or are the expected changes just not as big and sweeping as was expected, so the disappointment leads to the sense that nothing was done? Does change just come too slow? If the changes desired and the changes promised are such big things and they are being delivered, then why are people so disgruntled, or acting like everything stayed exactly the same?

Is it a shifting goalpost thing, where you achieve one thing and people just forget that and then want more? I think it may be that as you raise the quality of life for people they become more aware of what they should have, and the more you improve their lot the better able they are to see what they want. Society should always be trending upwards, so this is not that unusual.

So, are politicians doing something more fundamental wrong? Could it be that their management of their personal affairs impacts upon the perception of how they must be handling their public office? Someone might be a totally great politician but have Monica Lewinsky in the closet. Or they might make great fiscal decisions for the country, but have some large amounts of loose change in a tax haven account that has been undisclosed. Used car salesman and politicians must be pretty much neck and neck for the reputation of most untrustworthy individuals.

Whatever the reason – it seems that whatever collective PR is being done, it isn’t working, and should be addressed.