Only one in five confident in Westminster - poll

Four out of five British voters do not have confidence in their parliament, according to a new poll. Picture: PA
Four out of five British voters do not have confidence in their parliament, according to a new poll. Picture: PA
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ONLY one in five British voters has confidence in their parliament, the least for any other major country in the European Union, a new survey has revealed.

However, despite the MPs expenses scandal, which rocked British politics in 2009, British voters are less likely to think corruption is a problem than residents in the majority of EU states.

According to a report commissioned by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, UK nationals were also less likely than those in any other EU country to report having been asked or expected to pay a bribe, with just one per cent telling the regular Eurobarometer survey that this had happened in 2013.

It also found that a majority of voters in almost every European Union country - including the UK - believe that corruption is a major problem in their public and political institutions.

Over the years since 2007, the proportion of Britons asked for bribes by public officials has not risen above five per cent, a similar figure to Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland, and well below the EU average of 10 per cent over the period.

The majority of demands for bribes were reported in southern EU countries led by Italy, Greece and Spain, although Ireland overtook Spain in 2013 to take third place among major EU states on seven per cent.

Numbers of Britons saying they “tend to trust” their national government fluctuated between about 20 per cent and 35 per cent between 2003 and 2013, hitting a low point after the expenses scandal in 2009, the report found.

However, the proportion of Britons who told the regular European Values Survey that they had confidence in Parliament has fallen since 1981 by 17 per cent to little more than 20 per cent in 2010 - the lowest in any major EU state.

CSPL chairman Lord Bew commissioned the EU-wide study after a “worrying” report last year found a “continuous and substantial decline” in public perceptions of standards in UK public life since 2004.

Lord Bew said: “What this research finds is that British citizens’ assessments of standards in public life are not unusual and they are rarely the most cynical. Indeed British citizens’ perceptions and experiences of corruption are consistently lower than those in most other European countries.”

But he warned British politicians against “complacency” over the fact that trust in their counterparts in other European nations is even lower than in the UK.

“Public perceptions of standards in public life have political consequences,” said Lord Bew. “It is important therefore that public authorities and office holders remain alert to the fundamental role that high ethical standards play in the healthy functioning of society.”

Drawing on regular Eurobarometer surveys, the CSPL report found that around 65 per cent of UK nationals said in 2013 that corruption was a major problem in their country - down from a peak of 73 per cent in 2009 in the immediate wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal. There was a dramatic increase in 2009 in the proportion of Britons who thought national politicians were corrupt, up from about 45 per cent in 2007 to more than 60 per cent, though the number has since fallen back below the 60 per cent level.

Despite this decline, some 59 per cent of Britons questioned in 2013 said that corruption had increased over the previous three years.

Only in Finland and Sweden did fewer than half of respondents see corruption as a major problem in 2013, while levels of concern in Germany and the Netherlands were also lower than in the UK. The EU average stood at around 75 per cent, with highest levels of concern in Greece - where 99 per cent said corruption was a major problem - followed by Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

Just 22 per cent of UK voters agreed that there was enough transparency and supervision in the financing of political parties and fewer than 20 per cent of Britons said they trust political parties - more than in Portugal, Spain, Ireland, France and Germany, but less than in the Nordic countries, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Commenting, SNP Westminster Leader Angus Robertson MP said: “It’s not surprising so few people have confidence in Westminster.

“From welfare cuts that hit the poorest hardest, to the unelected House of Lords claiming daily expenses, it is easy to see why the UK electorate has less confidence in their Parliament than any other major EU country. By comparison, a Panelbase opinion poll found a majority of Scots trust the Scottish Government to take the best decisions for Scotland, and if Scotland was included in previous EU-wide polling in its own right, only the Government of Luxembourg would have had a higher trust rating.

“Westminster isn’t working, but in Scotland we can choose a positive and trusted alternative by voting Yes in September.”