Trust Crisis: Why brexit supporters trust no one

‘If the heads of banks and multinationals support ‘remain’ it must be wrong for the rest of us’. Those eighteen words, quoted in a recent IEDP article, sum up the trust crisis that abruptly reared its ugly head in our recent EU referendum. The shock of looking in the collective mirror, and realising it had a big crack in it, has provoked a national wave of distress, sadness and self-examination.

In the midst of my own reflections, I came across the following YouGov research bluntly titled ‘Brexit Supporters Trust No One’. The YouGov survey of 1600 UK adults back in June of this year showed that ‘leave’ voters trusted typical authority figures (politicians, business leaders, economists, religious leaders, academics) much less than ‘remain’ voters. Indeed, the only category which ‘leave’ voters trusted more than ‘remain’ voters were ‘sports people’. You can see how the trust crisis is revealed in the chart below:-

Chart comparing trust by remainers and leavers in different institutions

The typical ‘remain’ voter will throw up their arms at such findings dismissing the ‘leave’ voters as ignorant. ‘I told you so’ they cry ‘they didn’t know what they were doing’. Yet from the ‘leave’ voter perspective they knew exactly what they were doing; they were getting their own back for what they perceive as years of dishonesty, scandal, greed and perceived exploitation by those very same authority figures.

Let’s put this perception to the test. Research has shown that trust is inspired by three attributes; ability, integrity and benevolence. Few would doubt the intellectual ability of our politicians, our economists and our business leaders. However, given the headlines of recent years, many would doubt their honesty and their benevolence; their concern for the common good of all.

You do not need me to wade through the roll call of abuses of authority and crass acts of negligence that have peppered our national landscape since the global financial crisis, but maybe it is worth checking-in briefly with one of the most recent and more bewildering examples. Specifically, the accusation by the former CEO of BHS that the company’s owner, Dominic Chappell, had threatened to kill him! Mr. Chappel allegedly threatened to kill the CEO because the CEO had accused him of stealing £1.5m of the company’s money. This corporate pantomime was played out in front of a parliamentary hearing. You could not make it up!

It is this daily diet of low level larceny that has eaten away at the bedrock of trust in our country’s institutions and leadership. Like a ravenous army of termites munching through an antique chest of drawers eventually the structure gives way, there is a sudden thud and what once was solid and unimpeachable is suddenly shattered and broken. I fear that our whole country went ‘thud’ on Friday 24th June; the day we realised that our sense of collective trust had finally expired. The day the trust crisis crystalised.

‘If it’s good for ‘them’, it can’t be good for ‘us” cried the nation’s bruised underbelly. And if ‘they’, those very able experts, tell us to turn left, we’ll turn right. Why? Because we don’t trust ‘them’ any more, that’s why. It’s simple, isn’t it?

It was C.S.Lewis who said, ‘Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.’ This referendum has shown us that many in this country regard the educated elite as merely ‘clever devils’. They sense a loss of essential values; the values of integrity and benevolence. And who is to say they are wrong? I, for one, as a passionate ‘remain’ voter, would love to put up a counter case, but unfortunately, as an expert on trust, I do not have the data to back it up.

John explores the trust crisis  in his new book, ‘The Trusted Executive: Nine leadership habits that inspire results, relationships and reputation’. Available to order now via Amazon UK.

[ First posted on ]