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business owners, agriculturalists and unionists have a falling share of voice in their traditional parties, and have been replaced by people with no specific career interests, or careers limited to government and politics.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