THE issue of trust will be at the heart of the forthcoming General Election.

Has the Blair administration lost the trust which has been the foundation of two terms in power? Do we trust Michael Howard's Tories to maintain the levels of investment in health and education?

This week's bitter debate over the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, which has ping-ponged between the Commons and the Lords, has underlined the fact that the Government does have a problem when it comes to trust.

Tony Blair asked the people of Britain to trust his judgement on the best way to deal with terror suspects. He asked us to trust his ministers to take the decision to deprive suspected terrorists of their liberty. He asked us to trust the accuracy of intelligence pointing to which people should be locked up without charge or trial.

But it was intelligence which insisted that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq, and it was on that basis that the country went to war. Trust is easy to lose and difficult to regain.

It is a sad state of affairs for democracy in this country that trust in politicians in general is at its lowest ebb.

And when it comes to the election, many people will not vote on the basis of who they trust the most, but on the basis of who they mistrust the least.