One of the more mystifying trends in public life is that the police continue to enjoy huge amounts of public esteem and trust, despite having been buffeted by a series of high-profile scandals. In fact, according to Ipsos MORI’s Trust Index, the longest-running measurement of public trust, trust in the police is higher now than it has been at any point since that pollster began surveying people in 1983.
It’s true to say that most members of the police force haven’t impregnated female activists while undercover, allowed racist murderers to get off scot-free, or unlawfully killed an Evening Standard vendor. It is also true to say that most politicians haven’t fiddled their expenses, yet politicians as a class have endured a fall in esteem as a result of the expenses scandal (though their trust ratings have recovered somewhat since the low of 2009, when just 13 per cent of people said they trusted politicians to tell the truth). Similarly, most journalists have not engaged in phone-hacking but the whole trade saw a fall in its trust ratings in both the year of the News of the World scandal and the year of Princess Diana’s death.
How have the police done it? In part, it’s because these stories have largely not had the same level of coverage. (There was a small but statistically significant dip in trust in the police when the Daily Mail’s campaign for justice in the case of Stephen Lawrence was at its height.) And of course, without reputational damage, the institutional impulse to root out the bad apples in the British police will remain low.
Which is why, although the campaign might have been better done to make it more explicit that Lush were campaigning against not coppers in general but those coppers involved in the spycops scandal, they should be applauded for having the bravery to take a stand against one of Britain’s most trusted profession on a topic where the police still have questions to answer.