Anthony Barnett (London, OK): 'Trust' was a shaping issue for New Labour, whose creators believed that their party had fundamentally lost trust and could never exercise power without it. I vividly recall Tony Blair launching the 1997 election campaign by telling us, in the mainly media audience and the country via the cameras, we could trust him. And sensing, viscerally, as he did so, that I did not. It wasn’t that he protested too much, it was that you could feel he utterly distrusted not just the media and the voters but also himself. “Trust me”, he said, but he knew better.
So I read Brown’s acceptance speech with great interest as he took up the same defining theme. “I will strive to earn your trust. To earn your trust not just in foreign policy but earn your trust in our schools, in our hospitals, in our public services…. And to build trust in our democracy, we need a more open form of dialogue for citizens and politicians to genuinely debate problems and solutions…. And I want to do more of this not just in the coming weeks and beyond. It is about a different type of politics – a more open and honest dialogue”. Tom Nairn doesn’t believe it and argues Brown wants the same old politics if in modified clothes. Jackie Ashley, in an important story and column today, reports he is considering a “constitutional convention” and says “fingers crossed”. I’m struck by the lack of trust in ourselves in all this. It’s a treason of democracy that none of the questions at the first hustings for the deputy leadership, or to Brown in his one-man show for leader, probe his commitment to a constitutional reform bill or what he means by “a different type of politics”. Why? The easy answer is that there is no point as he doesn’t mean it. The real answer is that if we wanted it more we’d challenge him on what is needed.