Integrity means being honest and having strong moral principles, writes columnist James Williams. In my line of work – teaching, education and research – integrity is a core requirement of the job.

In any research we do we must be honest and transparent (where have I heard that before?) and the work we do must be of the highest integrity. To carry out any research we must obtain ethical clearance that involves a process of scrutinising what we, or any of our students do, that may involve working with others, from children to adults.

We must obtain informed consent for anything we do which means that anyone taking part in research understands what is happening and why and agrees to be involved. For children, parents or guardians must also give their consent.

Integrity is not unique to education and research. I expect people from many different sectors of society to act with integrity. Those who are elected to represent as MPs, councillors etc. should uphold the highest standards of integrity. Professionals such as doctors, lawyers and those in the emergency services are duty bound to act with integrity. Yet time and again we are being let down. From the police service to rogue healthcare practitioners and, in my view, politicians from all sides and at all levels. Barely a week goes by without a front-page headline of yet another public official acting without integrity or honesty. Some days it can look like there is nobody we can trust that is in charge of the country.

How has it come to this? Fraud, sexual offences, deliberately misleading the electorate, bare-faced lies and corruption fill the news. Cover ups and the suppression of reports seems routine. The idea that public service is about serving the people and making lives better has somehow been twisted by many into acts of self-interest and financial gain.

One especially egregious idea is that a politician could hold down seven roles, six part-time jobs in addition to being a full-time MP as is claimed of MP Sir Brandon Lewis. This is ludicrous. These so-called “consultancies” have a purpose – to try to gain inside information about or exert influence in government decisions, in other words, lobbying.

MPs will deny this as paid lobbying is banned. So, my question is this. If MPs genuinely are not being paid for their inside knowledge and potential influence in government decision making, what are they getting paid for?

If it’s not about influence or information, then companies are very bad at getting value for money for their shareholders. Companies that pay tens of thousands of pounds a year for a few hours “work” per week are at best being reckless.

But what about openness and honesty? Rishi Sunak promised the people this when he took over (remember, he was not elected by the people or the party) as Prime Minister.

These words to me were empty. They had no commonly understood meaning. We only need to look at how many politicians from his party have had to resign or stand down after being found to have broken various rules or even the law. Here I will not be partisan.

Politicians from all parties have failed to uphold the highest standards. Perhaps I’m guilty of confirmation bias, but it certainly seems to me that in recent years the instances of politicians breaking the rules has increased a lot. If I’m being naive then it would mean that in earlier times, people were better at keeping the stories quiet.

When MPs squirm and change the meaning of words to suit their purpose, or worse still threaten to change the law to make an illegal act “legal” to suit their political agenda, we should be very concerned.

We are entering a new world, which like Alice in Wonderland, is all topsy-turvy, where up is down and wrong is right. We appear to have politicians who will regularly enact a scene from Alice Through the Looking glass: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”, “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

If a lie becomes something that somebody “misspoke”, I feel as if I’m being taken as a fool. We must demand more from those in high profile public jobs. Insist on lies being called out, for those in public office to be transparent and most importantly, we need mechanisms where breaches of any code of conduct result in immediate suspension or expulsion.

Dr James Williams is a senior lecturer in education in the University of Sussex