More generalist and careerist MPS

A new study has put numbers to what has often been suggested – that today’s MPs have less traditional backgrounds (like farming and unions).

A third of MPs are political careerists with limited experience outside public service and politics. “Over 30% of them have entered Parliament after careers exclusively spanning government, public sector or politics.”

“If you have no real career other than politics, you are unlikely to want to rock the boat. Challenging the establishment will seldom be in a career politician’s best interests.”

New Zealand MPs are now less likely to be from traditional careers in business and unions, and more likely to be generalists who turn to politics as a career, according to a study released today.

The study, by political researcher Geoffrey Miller and public relations expert Mark Blackham, researched and compared the career histories of all 121 Members of the current Parliament.

They found that business owners, agriculturalists and unionists have a falling share of voice in their traditional parties, and have been replaced by people with no specific career interests, or careers limited to government and politics.

Miller said 23% of National MPs had experience working in a business, and only 10% of Labour MPs had worked in a union.

Miller said that while Parliament had become more ethnically and gender diverse under MMP, the range of prior occupations was becoming increasingly narrow.

Miller added that younger MPs were especially likely to be beholden to the parties they represented because of their decision to pursue politics as a profession.

Blackham said the rise of generalists reflected both a change in employment patterns in the wider community, and a perception that politics was an employment option as well as a calling. Almost a fifth of MPs had no definable career before politics.

“Parliament is reflecting something ordinary people are experiencing; the tendency to go through a range of jobs rather than a single career. Wide experience of life may well help MPs to understand the public they represent.

“But there is a less creditable trend toward seeing politics as an employment option. For these MPs, the job follows a working life solely in government or politics. This is a new phenomenon.”

Three major conclusions from the report:

  1. The traditional difference in economic sectors represented in the major political parties is extinct;
    National now has proportionately few farmers or business people.
    Labour has few unionists or blue collar workers, but is strongest in MPs with varied non-specific employment experience.
    The Party with proportionately the most business experience is New Zealand First.
    The party with proportionately the most activists is the Green Party.
  2. One third of our politicians have only ever worked in political jobs. Over 30% of them have entered Parliament after careers exclusively spanning government, public sector or politics.
  3. MPs are now reflecting the wider employment trend of having multiple careers or having worked in a wide range of jobs. Nearly 20% of all MPs have had ‘multiple’ careers.

MPWorkExperience

Noteworthy findings

  1. 34% of MPs have a career history entirely working for the government in some form.
  2. The biggest category was “multiple” careers – where MPs have worked in various employment, and not followed a particular career or field of expertise. Labour had proportionately the greatest number in this category (one quarter of its MPs)
  3. The single most common career has been employment in the business world (19 MPs, and generally management work, not entrepreneurial or operational), followed by a career in government (15 MPs).
  4. There are 10 career politicians (vs. 12 MPs in previous Parliament).
  5. Labour Party now has a notable presence of MPs with careers in the Maori sector (5/32 MPs in 2015 compared to 3/34 MPs in 2014).
  6. New Zealand First remains dominated by MPs with business experience, particularly within SMEs.
  7. The Green Party remains dominated by those with a Unionist or Activist background (5/13 MPs).
  8. The two Maori Party MPs both have a background in education.
  9. Between the 50th and 51st Parliaments, Labour has seen a decrease in MPs with unionist backgrounds (3 vs 5 MPs).
  10. National has fewer agricultural MPs than the previous parliament (6 vs 9 MPs)

National MPs have a wider variety of backgrounds than Labour MPs but part of the reason for this is there are nearly twice as many.

MPNationalWorkBackgrounds

MPLabourWorkBackground

I think that two significant factors behind choices to stand for Parliament now are:

It can be much more high profile with the chance of high media and opponent examination.

The time and cost commitment to standing as a candidate with a chance of being elected is high, especially standing for electorates. You pretty much have to dedicate several months at least to full time campaigning.

This is easier for people already employed by parties.

This isn’t as necessary for small parties (Greens and NZ First) where political unknowns can get in via their party list placement.

But even NZ First’s most recent MP, Ria Bond, a hairdresser from Invercargill, had spent time working for NZ First MPs in Wellington.

Political activism and maintaining a career

An interesting post at The Standard – Left wing activism and the humdrum need to maintain jobs and careers, about the difficulties of being a left wing activist while maintaining a middle class mortgage supporting career.

This is by a new author, ‘Advantage’, who as ‘Ad’ has been one of the commenters worth keeping an eye on in Standard threads.

See if this rings any bells. You’ll have your own stories on this.

You’re highly qualified. You can’t trust those around you with your politics. Random restructures hit teams around you. If you’re outed, you’ll likely never work in your chosen field again. Your few close friends are allies, others have flamed out like a final Mad Max ride. Your nom-de-plume protects your mortgage.

A few peel off to work in Parliament, others to minor NGOs, some reduced to commenting alone, still more get post-campaign burnout and become melancholic muggles.

The choices narrow for the remainder. Build or find a project in your “spare time” and believe in its ability to inspire; this site is one. Choose union activism to rail valiantly against the rising exploitative tide, and forgo your career arc. Some retreat to the grey economy, rebuke the world, retire from the field early, sending occasional missives on purity.

Others keep their suits on. They find social reform, or governance positions, or built infrastructure projects, on a monumental scale, and push their shoulder in. They make deals. They compromise everything especially themselves. They are strategic brokers, and they are paid for it. One’s function in politics changes as one’s ideals are replaced by instruments.

The comments thread is interesting too (if you can get past the few “right bad, left perfect and hard done by” bits) with discussion and expansion on the themes raised.

I’m sure there are jobs in which people interested in any sort of political activism feel restrained and see a need to keep their activism anonymous to their workplace. From the left, right or no aligned.

RedLogix comments:

Absolutely. I’ve never worked in a situation where I felt it wise to even talk about politics, much less ‘out’ myself.

It is absolutely one of the covert control mechanisms embedded in most workplaces, an effective prohibition on ever talking about salaries, politics, workplace bullying and so on. Increasingly the only things that are talked about are sport, the weather and workplace gossip. The intent is to keep worker powerless.

Ad responds:

This is as I suspected.

Sorry to sound like Morpheus out of The Matrix, but it means those kinds of people really are out there.

What I am pointing to is their latent power.

Such insiders have massive institutional knowledge, are paid like professional people, have immense industry networks, and are often in charge of projects or programmes that have real effects in the world.
– Industry specific knowledge is vital for policy formation
– Paid professionals have the capacity to be donors (a growing left problem)
– Networks have specific political power into specific Ministries
– And programmes and projects can become part of policy direction as well

Political movements of the left need to nurture this kind of person.

In the modern world many people choose to put families, careers and private lives before political activism and other interests, even if they are inclined towards it (most have little or no interest in politics).

Could I have been an MP? Could I have been an All Black? Either is possible (although it’s unknown if either were attainable) , but for twenty plus years in the prime of my life I toiled away raising a family and going from job to job in order to survive financially.

My marriage didn’t come out the other side of that intact but I have children and step children and another marriage plus step children and grand children that I am very thankful for. The lack of high profile achievement and failing to solve the worlds problems has instead had it’s own big rewards. And now I can dabble (at politics, I gave up rugby at the end of last century).

Ironically (in respect of Advantage’s post) the longest I have had a single career job for has coincided with when I have been able to try out a bit of political activism. I’m aware some jobs wouldn’t allow that – perhaps those who want to pursue activism have to choose a job that’s compatible.

Mallard retirement – 2040?

Trevor Mallard indicated yesterday he is mid way through his career.

Trevor Mallard
17 May 2012 at 4:00 pm

Me final term who suggested that ? Midpoint of career more like it. Was involved in discussion in relation to one of my predecessors Walter Nash yesterday. Good precedent.

Mallard was first elected to parliament in 1984, twenty eight years ago. Doubling that would see him retire in 2040, when he’s 86 years old – the age Walter Nash was when he died in office. Nash was in parliament for 39 years and included a term as Prime Minister. If Mallard stays on as promised it would mean his career would span 56 years.

This means there’s plenty of time to find Mallard to serve defamation papers.

It appears that voters haven’t yet been consulted on their intentions for the next three decades.

Labour stalwarts hoping their party can recover and rebuild have not commented.