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Old guard moving on, really?

Written By: - Date published: 9:35 am, January 16th, 2011 - 34 comments
Categories: election 2011, labour, national - Tags:

A strange little article in the Sunday-Star Times praises National’s ‘rejuvenation’ project. Well, excuse me but 3 MPs out of 53 announcing their retirement and 2 quitting under clouds of corruption during a term hardly equals rejuvenation. In fact, National faces the same problem that Labour did.

The average MP, I read somewhere stays in Parliament about two and a half terms. If National loses just 10% of its MPs this term that’s obviously not enough to keep up with the normal rate of turnover. The danger becomes that National will get about the same number of seats in 2011 as 2008 and, so, bring in virtually no new blood. If its share of the vote falls, as it inevitably will at some point, back in the mid-30s then no only will there be no new MPs, they’ll lose a swath of their backbenches, many of which are tomorrow’s leadership.

Not getting rid of under-performers now means locking out the next generation as National’s support follows the unavoidable downward portion of its popularity cycle.

Labour had this problem in 2002 and 2005 – it had fewer seats to go round and few retirements. In this game of musical chairs some promising young candidates found themselves with nowhere to sit and were lost for a time or forever. Fortunately, Labour undertook a radical rejuvenation in 2008 so that, despite losing total seats again, about a third of its caucus are first-termers and many have real potential.

I’ve nothing against senior MPs with a lot of experience under their belt. Helen Clark had been in Parliament 18 years, been a minister, and Deputy Prime Minister before becoming PM. I reckon a good PM will have at least 3 terms under their belt and already have been a minister. The alternative is the Key/Lange syndrome – a PM who can’t really lead a much more experienced cabinet and becomes a smiling figurehead instead. The problem is when the middle benches are crowded with long-serving MPs who aren’t going anywhere and are preventing people with a future coming on.

In an earlier post, on how to avoid getting stuck with MPs like George Hawkins and Chris Carter, I wrote:

“How can Labour avoid this?

By telling prospective MPs from the outset that Parliament is not a career. A very few MPs might stay on for 6,7,8 terms but they must be the exception, not the rule. Any MP who is not on the track to be a senior minister some day shouldn’t hang around more than two terms.”

I still believe that’s the key to keeping a parliamentary party rejuvenated – tell your new MPs from the outset that this is not a job for life.

34 comments on “Old guard moving on, really? ”

  1. Nick C 1

    You’ve got to consider a number of other factors:

    1) Those are just the MPs who are retiring. It’s common practise to put 3 or 4 new people in high list spots, which can force out some of those who current MPs then get low list spots. I can think of a few National MPs who will likely be forced out at the election because they underperform and dont hold an electorate.

    2) Although you need new people every election, there isnt a constant rate of turnover. When a perception comes about that a government is about to lose the election there tend to be a spike in retirements in that party, and MPs who lose out when the tide is low (National 2002, Labour 1990) dont typically come back when the tide comes back in again, although there are exceptions to that.

    • Lanthanide 1.1

      “I can think of a few National MPs who will likely be forced out at the election because they underperform and dont hold an electorate.”
      Like Melissa Lee?

  2. Many years ago Roger Douglas also expressed the thought that MPs should leave parliament after 3 terms unless they were really making their mark.

    This was probably the last thing that he said that I agreed with …

    • john 2.1

      well i wish Douglas would piss off to his retirement home in Switzerland or where ever then,as he aint making a mark in parliament at all,but for when he wets his pants

  3. I wonder if Labour’s rejuvenation issues have to do with the less lucrative careers Labour MPs tend to have before they enter parliament. If you’re a National MP looking at resigning then you can go back to the farm, resume your law practise etc, and your lifestyle won’t really change much.
    And if you’ve been a successful Labour MP (Mahary, Clark, Cullen) then you have a wealth of opportunities available.

    But if you’re an underperforming Labour MP you’re still on a high salary, probably paying a mortgage on a large house and holiday home, and early retirement means a return to union work, teaching or whatever, and a dramatic reduction in income. Thus a tendency for Labour MPs to cling on to their electorates or list positions for as long as they can.

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 3.1

      Nothing wrong with being a teacher or union worker, Danyl. Sure you don’t get the perks but I see both as playing really valuable roles in society.

      Why should we see some jobs as being so undesirable.

      • Colonial Viper 3.1.1

        Because we have let this become a society where your vocational worth is defined by the size of your pay packet. I guess Hotchins was a real gem then, under this criteria.

    • Anne 3.2

      You might have been right about that once Danyl McLauchlan but less so nowadays. Most Labour MPs (especially more recent intakes) have solid professional qualifications including those from union back-grounds. This is due to our once excellent, free education system that allowed bright young people from working class families (eg. Phil Goff) to have the opportunities their parents never had. And that is largely thanks to previous Labour governments!

    • Sailor Sam 3.3

      Spot on – To many Labour MPs get into parliament without any work experience and become a lifelong recipient of welfare, commonly called an MP’s salary. A lot of these MPs are unemplyable in the outside world and thus hang on, at the public trough, for dear life.

      • mickysavage 3.3.1

        To (sic) many Labour MPs get into parliament without any work experience

        BS Sailor

        Name one.

        • Graeme Edgeler

          I’m not saying he never had a job … but Darren Hughes?

          Pretty close to to what Sailor Sam is getting at anyway.

          • Roger

            Even if parliament was Darren Hughes’ first job, considering his drive, intensity, intelligence and focus, he is far from being unemployable. He would be on a similar salary by now with a private sector employer even if he started in an entry level position strait from school.

        • Sailor Sam

          1) Jacinda Ardern – a checkout chick before becoming a full time socialist activist, paid by the taxpayer and now an MP. What skill does she have to forge a career outside of parliament?
          2) Chris Carter – oh yes he is no longer a Labour MP, sorry.

          • Dude from overseas

            Sailor Sam @ 2)
            BS – Mr Carter was over 40 when he entered Parliament for his first term. Before 1993 he had a self-sustaining career, being taxpayer. I’d say so far his MP time is just about equal with his ordinary taxpayer life.

            It just turns out that another dress-up compulsively has to be found to discredit a bunch of people who work their arse of way more than all these people collectively flaming their frustrations on the net.

      • Colonial Viper 3.3.2

        A lot of these MPs are unemplyable in the outside world and thus hang on, at the public trough, for dear life.

        Only person unemployable here mate is you, however perhaps you do serve a purpose as a warning not to feed trolls.

        MP’s doing their jobs put in 60-80 hour weeks and work hard on behalf of their constituents and on behalf of the country. Any list MP not pulling their weight should be trained up or cut down by their party very quickly.

  4. ghostwhowalksnz 4

    And all the former National MPs who were trying for Auckland Council seats shows that ex national MPs have better careers than labour MPs to fall back on? I dont think so.
    I wonder how Gilbert Myles is doing these days

    • Irascible 4.1

      On this line of argument I notice that none of the National party hopefuls lining up for Botany have ever held down a real work job and that several have been career local body parasites.

  5. Nothing wrong with being a teacher or union worker, Danyl. Sure you don’t get the perks but I see both as playing really valuable roles in society.

    Why should we see some jobs as being so undesirable.

    I guess I haven’t made my point properly. If you’re an underperforming MP earning $150,000 per year then the prospect of returning to your previous job on a third of your salary is not going to look very attractive – you’ll probably have to sell your house, holiday home etc and scale back your lifestyle. So there is an incentive to cling onto your position as an MP.

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 5.1

      I take your point- valid I guess if your main concern is your pay packet or status. Just think its sad that honourable jobs like teaching, helping workers get some rights or working in the community are seen as second class jobs.

      BTW- my family in Oz are all senior teachers. They all earn over 100K not including the 8% super. thats a job with guranteed tenure and nine weeks holiday! Not bad I would say.

      • QoT 5.1.1

        I think you’re slightly missing Danyl’s point, ZB – it’s not that the jobs are less high-status, it’s that when one becomes an MP one’s lifestyle adapts to the new, higher salary – at which point it might seem difficult/impossible to downsize back to a teacher or union leader’s salary.

        • Colonial Viper

          Its a good thing that we have NAT MPs from wealthy professional backgrounds then.

          Their MP’s salary won’t mean as much to them, they are doing their public service solely for the good of the country and all its citizens. This also means that when they have finished with what productive work they can do on behalf of NZ’ers in Parliament, NAT MP’s can without their financial constraints happily leave Parliament of their own accord without needing to be forced out.

          Break open a Tui for me someone.

          • QoT

            I’m confused as to what that has to do with my comment … I was just explaining Danyl’s point.

            • Colonial Viper

              Just a bit of irony, but wasn’t picking on your comment. Just remarking that having wealth doesn’t make holding on to a parliamentary position any less attractive.

          • KJT

            Didn’t you mean to say. When they have done their duty, and finished stealing every public asset in NZ to give to their mates in overseas corporates. To ensure their further enrichment at the public teat.

            Douglas should be in his rightful place. In goal with the rest of the 1984 Labour Government and the Richardson Shipley Government for negligence at best, criminal intent most likely, with the NZ economy.

            The problem with Labour is they still have too many of the old guard from the 80’s to really move on and repudiate the whole Neo-Liberal mess.

        • Zaphod Beeblebrox

          If thats the case, its a really sad state of affairs. As I see it there are 4 solutions-

          1.Limit parliamentary terms to 8 or 12 years (if its good enough for the US President).
          2. Pay MPs less (won’t get much opposition to that one).
          3. Reward our skilled professionals better (llike they do in Australia).
          4. Allow voters to rank list MPs.

          Of course this doesn’t guarantee decent MPs but it hopefully should stop them becoming time servers.

          • Sailor Sam

            A list MP should not be allowed to be in parliament if they have stood in, but failed to win an electorate seat. No double dipping!!

            • Daveosaurus

              That would fairly much negate the worth of party lists in the first place. It would be better to completely reverse that: no politician should be accepted onto a parliamentary list unless they’re also prepared to stand in an electorate.

              This would also make it very easy for voters to rank list MPs; instead of accepting list MPs into Parliament in order of list ranking, it should be done in order of valid votes cast for each list candidate in the electorate in which they stood. So, for instance, a competent electorate MP who just wasn’t quite as popular as another candidate in their electorate would be elected ahead of some nobody who has no experience of or relevance to Parliament, regardless of their position on the list.

              (And did you ever find the Band on the Run?)

          • prism

            Zaphod B – If it’s good enough for the US it’s not good enough for us. We don’t want their quagmire, sh.t-slinging politics no sirree!

  6. Marjorie Dawe 7

    Can we get rid of Sam Lotu-Iiga too because of his stuff up regarding his friends in PEDA.

  7. Tanz 8

    Why would National rejuvinate when they are glowing in the polls? Why change the receipe now? It’s early days yet, give them a break. Basking in the polls, I hope they make the most of it!

  8. Chris73 9

    I still believe that’s the key to keeping a parliamentary party rejuvenated – tell your new MPs from the outset that this is not a job for life.

    Can’t disagree with this

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