Public losing faith in politics, says Benn

The government is “partly to blame” for the public’s loss of faith in politics, international development secretary Hilary Benn has said.

Speaking to the New Statesman, the candidate for Labour’s deputy leadership said: “The thing that worries me more than anything else is losing faith in the capacity of politics to change things. I don’t mean scepticism, criticism, querying, but I do mean cynicism.”

And he admitted: “The truth is, we are partly to blame, you [the media] are partly to blame, and the culture of excessive expectation followed by inevitable disappointment is to blame.

“People are yearning for a politics that tells it straight: that being in government is difficult, that there are tough decisions that we have to make sometimes.”

He said the Labour party needs a deputy leader “who is going to offer honest advice and ensure the voice of the party is heard inside the highest reaches of government.

“We need someone who’s going to listen and is good at working with people. And whoever gets the job, the party has got to demonstrate we are passionate about social justice.”

He suggested the position of party chair should be elected and said the leadership needed to listen more to members.

“Politics is a process, and there has to be a continual conversation between those who govern and those who give their consent to be governed,” he said.

The minister denied the Labour government has been subservient to the Bush administration and said “It is a caricature that America just has to say, ‘Britain, we want to do the following’ and we say: ‘Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir.’ It’s just not true.”

The international development secretary has followed a policy independent of the Americans on the issue of HIV prevention.

“Human beings have sex and they shouldn’t die because they have sex – you should make condoms available. And you have to get treatment to people and fight stigma and discrimination because that encourages people then to be open about how to fight the disease,” he said.

On the issue of the war, he said he voted in favour of going into Iraq “because I thought it was the right thing to do” but said he was “not in favour of” military action against Iran.

The publication of the interview coincided with controversy over Mr Benn’s directorship of think-tank Unions 21, over claims he broke the ministerial code of conduct.

The Times revealed the think-tank had received a grant of nearly £20,000 from the Department of Trade and Industry, which Mr Benn claimed to have been unaware of.

He has now stood down from the company and said he had been reassured last year by the independent adviser on ministerial interests that he had not broken any rules.

Ministers are usually prohibited from holding directorships.