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Open letter to Rt. Hons Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss

Rae Burdon

A single voice, but he spoke for all of us.

The opening question at the Channel 4 debate on July 16th, involving five candidates at the time was, the moderator Krishnan Guru-Murthy told us, “the one subject that had dominated questions from our audience.” The question, delivered by a member of the floating voter audience, was “Why should the public trust any of you?”

The answers were illuminating, if not in the way that candidates may have hoped. It won’t be the first time that politicians fail to answer a question, but on this occasion not one of the five putative Prime Ministers even understood the question.

Each stepped up to answer that they could be trusted either because of their record of delivery, or that they ‘spoke truth to power’, that they had ‘always acted with honesty’, that they ‘called out friends’ and are ‘willing to say difficult things.’

The question, however, wasn’t ‘Why should the public trust you?’ but any of you. The questioner wanted to know what the candidates would do to restore trust in politics and politicians, because we no longer trust what you say – trust is bust. Instead, the answer was a pitch from the individual related to their own qualities and ambitions, not a plan to fix “the scandals, shame and sleaze.”

And now there are two and the agenda has moved on. This letter asks you both, please, to pause and belatedly answer the question in policy terms, not in character terms.

We don’t question your personal integrity; we are asking if you fully grasp the extent of damage that recent events have wrought on politics generally and your party specifically and that the process of ‘recovery’ (because we have been ‘abused’) can only begin when people see that particular measures are put in place.

If it helps, measures such as:
Proper application of the House of Commons corrections procedure, such that personal fines are applied when it fails to be observed. Our friends at Full Fact, not to mention many in the media, have for some years been pointing out gross and frequent transgressions without so much as the courtesy of a response. This issue applies to all the major parties.

The regulation of electoral advertising, such as was recommended by the House of Lords, to whom we gave evidence, in June 2020. Our own reviews have also shown blatant lies and deceptions in Conservative and other parties’ advertising, content of which is entirely unregulated and has a far greater and unchecked impact on voters than the reporting of political exchange. In other words, there’s no Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Robert Peston, Sophie Raworth, and certainly no ASA, between your message and the voter. This is easy to fix, so please fix it.

These are not ‘Twitter issues’: according to the IPPR, trust in politicians is at its lowest level on record (as if we needed confirmation). Additionally, 86% of Conservative voters think that ‘it should be a legal requirement that factual content in election advertising is accurate’ (our YouGov research 2019).

Candidates in the leadership debate we have discussed above went on to say that this whole process wasn’t about them – it was about “you, the voter”.

It’s not. It’s about you, the politician. All of you.

Yours sincerely,
Reform Political Advertising

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