Who’d be an MP?

Written By: - Date published: 7:14 am, July 13th, 2010 - 10 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, leadership, Parliament, politicans - Tags: ,

I think I decided quite some time ago that I don’t want to be an MP. I was reminded of the decision recently when I had an interesting chat with someone who does want the job (and will very likely have it in 2011). The conversation – the kind you have while killing an hour in an airport cafe – certainly made me think again about who’d want to be an MP, and why.

In many ways it’s a dog of a job. The hours are dreadful, as is the impact on family life. You live in the glare of the public spotlight, with some of the less savoury reporters and bloggers always trawling through your laundry. Much of the population viscerally hate you and most of the rest don’t know you exist. It’s confrontational and competitive, in many cases the struggle to “get ahead” is with your own friends and colleagues. The continual confrontation seems to bring out the worst in politicians as they gradually adopt the tactics that everyone else is using (I find this in a minor way even as a blogger). And it’s hard to see how passion and enthusiasm can survive the numbing routines and long hard grind of parliamentary process.

Against all those negatives is the chance to “make a difference”. And that is why, of course, the best of those who become MPs, take it on. Parliament isn’t the only place to make a difference in the world, but it is one of the big ones, especially if you make it far enough up the ladder to be a minister.

Most of the commentary directed at politicians is negative. We the people tend to distrust them as much as sex workers and telemarketers. And far too many of them, sadly, deserve nothing more. We do our share of getting stuck in to politicians on this blog of course. But I want to end this ramble with a salute to all the good politicians. To those of you who got in to politics because of the strength of your convictions and a desire to serve. To those of you who still manage to conduct yourselves in the meat grinder of parliament with honesty and passion. Good on you all. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

10 comments on “Who’d be an MP?”

  1. loota 1

    Fair calls all through, Rob. In addition, I think more ‘ordinary peeps’ should join local branches of political parties and make sure (amongst other things) that their MPs do the things that they are supposed to do and which they say that they are going to do. That month to month electoral pressure would also make a difference in getting individual pollies to stay on course and on programme.

  2. Jenny 2

    A very good post. I think it is one that goes right to the heart of parliamentary politics.

    What is parliamentary politics?

    What is this struggle about?

    Why are politicians held in such contempt?

    Why are politicians divided into different sectarian groupings?

    What do these groupings represent?

    On which side of the line does each grouping fall?

    The current fashion for talk-back hosts to indulge in a pox on both your houses type rhetoric accusing politicians across the political spectrum of incompetence and stupidity is just a cover to disguise the fact that some politicians do make a big difference, and achieve a lot for their constituents.

    Unfortunately these constituents are often not you or I. So the results, often appear as disastrous to the vast majority.

  3. When I was first involved in a small party with limited parliamentary presence (the Alliance in 2000) I pretty quickly worked out being an MP was really a pretty awful job. Especially in a smaller party, where you didn’t really have a decent period to be a true backbencher and get to grips with it for a term or so, but were instead thrust straight into being expected to perform at a high level and give up most waking hours for the party and the job.

    I think we do actually need to do something about the hours and expectations if we want to increase the diversity of our MPs further (which I do, others may not care). It should be a job that you can do and have a family, for example.

  4. deemac 4

    hear, hear. There ought to be a way – short of selecting MPs from the general population at random for one term only – to bring political life closer to ordinary people. How about mini-parliamentary sessions around the country? Or expanding select committee-style hearings (ie the opposite of what this administration is doing). Or proper public Q&A sessions like the mayor of London holds? Of course you get the nutters but real people feel they have a voice too.

  5. ianmac 5

    I believe that if you are not in Cabinet you have very little say. Though of course John Key likes to have a “young” MP sitting behind him during Question Time to show that National have a young vibrant team, so you could be a model?
    I haven’t made a career choice yet but I don’t think I would be an MP.

  6. Rex Widerstrom 6

    Against all those negatives is the chance to “make a difference’. And that is why, of course, the best of those who become MPs, take it on.

    The best of them, yes. But when I look at the “league tables” listing things like PQs asked, media releases issued, Parlaimentary speeches made etc (not the only measures of an MP’s worth, but measures nonetheless) and see the usual suspects languihing near the bottom, my blood boils.

    Mostly they are List MPs and mostly they are there for one of two reasons – they are new and have some “look” the Party wants (age, race etc) or they’re old and worn out, lost their electorate seats and are being retained because they can be trusted to do nothing beyond make up the numbers.

    There are literally thousands of excellent people across all parties who put themselves forward every three years and don’t make pre-selection or a sufficiently high list ranking. I can look at certain MPs in any party and know there were better people than them cast aside.

    That we’re turning our backs on their talents is a major failing of our system, yet one which everyone seems happy to allow to continue.

  7. Quoth the Raven 7

    One word is missing from this piece and it is ‘power’. That these people seek to have power over the lives of others, that power corrupts, these are reasons to distrust them as much as sex workers and telemarketers. Although putting the latter two in with politicians is grossly unfair to them.

    • r0b 7.1

      I don’t think that the average MP has much power. And I don’t think that the best of them are in it for power, or that power corrupts them. “Power corrupts” is a good general rule, but it isn’t universal.

      • Quoth the Raven 7.1.1

        It’s relative, but they have significant power. They can write and vote on legislation that can affect thousands or millions of New Zealanders. “Power corrupts” is not universal, but when you’re dealing with people who actually seek out power I think you’re dealing with the easily corruptible.

        “It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.’
        David Brin

        • Rex Widerstrom

          Heh, that same quote was chosen… by errr… someone… to adorn the late lamented “Lawswatch” blog. And never was it more apt…

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