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Trust in British politics hits record low as Brexit and culture wars fuel divide, survey finds

A record percentage of people rarely trust any government to prioritise the needs of the country over internal party interests, the latest British Social Attitudes survey has found.

The National Centre for Social Research, which conducted the survey, found a sharp rise in disenchantment with how the country is governed among those who voted to leave the EU.

It said the enduring impact of Brexit and the increased profile of issues relating to culture and identity has created a new “dividing line” in British politics.

The percentage of leave voters who said they almost never trust governments to prioritise the needs of the country has risen from 25% in 2020 to 48% in the latest survey.

Polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice, who is a senior research fellow at NatCen, said: “It is often suggested that now that Brexit no longer dominates the political agenda that the battle for votes has reverted to being simply a contest between left and right.

“However, the terrain in which the parties are fighting is now a two-dimensional space in which issues of culture and identity, including Brexit, are as important as the divide between left and right.”

The annual survey found 45% of respondents “almost never” believe governments of any party are fully focused on challenges facing the UK, which is higher than the previous record high of 40% recorded in 2009 following the MPs’ expenses scandal.

A record 58% also said they “almost never” trust politicians of any party to “tell the truth when they are in a tight corner” – a 19-point increase from 2020.

The survey found 79% believe the system of governing in the UK could be improved “quite a lot” or “a great deal”.

This is equivalent to the record high recorded during the political stalemate over Brexit in 2019, and up 18 points since 2020.

Prof Curtice said the results show the next government will “need to address the concerns of a public that is as doubtful as it has ever been about the trustworthiness and efficacy of the country’s system of government”.

NatCen concluded that policy failures had also undermined confidence in government, with problems in the NHS and the cost-of-living crisis contributing to a lack of trust.

Some 86% of people who were dissatisfied with the NHS said the system of government is in need of significant improvement.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of those who are struggling with living costs say they almost never trust politicians to tell the truth, while 49% of those who are living “comfortably” share the same view.

There is also evidence of growing support for devolution.

For the first time, under half of people in England backed the current parliamentary system over introducing a separate English parliament or a model of regional government.

The survey identified a persistent divide among voters on identity issues which now exists alongside the traditional debate between those on the left and right about the economy and inequality.

This new “duality” is likely to be a key factor of in the way people vote in the General Election on 4 July, researchers said.

The survey consisted of 5,578 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults and was conducted between September 12 and October 31, 2023.

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