Not fibbing, just frustrated

I have returned from abroad to find David Walker's letter (27 November) about the public's views on issues of democracy, individual rights, freedom of information, and so on. I should have thought that Walker, as editor of the Guardian Analysis feature, would know better than to ask why people tell pollsters and focus-group organisers "such fibs" on these matters.

The plain answer is that they don't. For close on ten years, the Rowntree Reform Trust's polls, conducted by MORI and ICM (the Guardian's own pollsters), have shown consistent popular backing for more democracy than British politicians are willing to give the public. The huge surge in favour of human rights since 1995, which I reported in the NS on 20 Novem-ber ("We're all liberals now"), was the result of a major poll of 2,400 respondents.

The poll does not show the public to be "paragons of liberalism", as Walker sneeringly implies. None of those who have worked on these polls would make such a claim on the basis of the evidence we have accumulated. On the other hand, the people of this country also clearly fail to live down to Walker's low expectations of them. He may like to consider whether such low expectations, common in the political class, may also give a partial answer to his question "Why don't people do anything about their beliefs?".

In 1997, the electorate did try to do so, with a limited degree of conviction, by voting Labour and Liberal Democrat and putting into power a new government that promised to be an open and trustworthy People's Government. The degree of disillusionment that this same poll has revealed, and the level of support it shows for "petrol-protesting" blockades and other forms of protest, are perhaps in part indications of the frustrated expectations of ordinary people since then.

Stuart Weir
Wrington, Somerset