Advice for new MPs

As a helpful resource for new MPs, I’ve gone around a number of former MPs, former parliamentary staff and journalists and have compiled the collective wisdom into a set of tips or advice for new MPs. There will be companion posts detailing additional advice for new Opposition MPs and also a post with advice for new Ministers.

In no particular order, the tips are:

  1. If marginal, make seat safe. This should be your first, second and third priority in your first term. If you are a List MP and in with a chance to take the seat next time, then same advice – focus massively on the electorate. MPs who hold electorates do better generally than those on the List – at least in the major parties.
  2. As Keith Holyoake said to new MPs, “Breathe through the nose”.  Look, listen and learn before you talk too much.
  3. Choose a route early on for promotion and work on it. The three main routes are through the House, through Select Committees, or through the Whips Office. The good debaters should go House, the policy wonks select committees, and the well organised ones the Whips Office. Play to your strength. All three routes can lead to promotion and eventually being a Minister.
  4. Don’t do too many press releases. The media have the capacity to do two political issues a day generally. MPs who fire off a press release every two days on their pet topic just become jokes. Wait for a good issue you can jump onto, and listen to your media team.
  5. Do visit the gallery occasionally. Don’t drop in every week with your releases, but it is good to sometimes pop your own release around. You can pick up a lot chatting to the journos. Of course they will try and pump you for info also. Information is a currency to be traded.
  6. Develop a relationship with a couple of journos.  Ones you can trust to have a coffee or drink with, and develop a mutually beneficial relationship with. You should never be friends, but you can be friendly.
  7. The senior leadership team do not want your views on every issue, but don’t be mute if an issue around your electorate or which you have extensive background in
  8. The Leaders Office can be your best friend and resource. Be nice to them. Use them. They can make a significant difference to whether you succeed or not.
  9. Use the Parliamentary Library. You can ask them almost anything.
  10. Have your partner come down during the week sometimes. It can be miserable going home to an barren apartment at 11 pm by yourself. Nice to have someone to go home to during the week sometimes.
  11. Your classmates are the closest you’ll have to friends. Have weekly drinks with them, and turn up. But do not over indulge.
  12. DO NOT attempt points of order unless the Whips ask you to. It almost always ends badly.
  13. Learn at least the basic Standing Orders over time.
  14. Never ever sneak out of Parliament if you don’t have leave and always obey the Whips.
  15. Volunteering for house rosters and select committee substitutions can earn you brownie points. Like in any workplace, a helpful good attitude will take you far.
  16. Don’t screw the crew. No, not even the really hot ones. For the avoidance of doubt, crew includes staff, colleagues and media.
  17. Get to know the lobbyists and govt relations firms. They are massively well connected and can help stop you screwing up. However remember they do work for their clients, not you.
  18. If a blog gets something wrong on you, let them know and they’ll probably correct it. Most bloggers are reasonable.
  19. Do a members bill, once you get approval of caucus. if a Government MP, can be a good way to earn brownie points with a Minister by doing a minor reform for them. If an Opposition MP, then look for a wedge issue the Government won’t want to vote against.
  20. Don’t hassle Ministers directly on all issues – talk to their staff first, and then to the Minister.
  21. Never accept a journalist’s summary of what someone else said, to comment on. It is fine to tell media you’ll give them a call back after checking.
  22. You will not be a Minister in first term unless you are Steven Joyce
  23. Select Committees are important. Read the papers before the meeting
  24. Remember the old saying that you find your opponents on the other side of the House and your enemies on your own side. It is all too true.
  25. Do not hire friends – you may have to sack them one day. But do hire people who are professionally, politically and personally loyal to you if possible. You want staff who will work almost as long hours as you will.
  26. Hiring an existing experienced parliamentary executive assistant is a very very wise thing to do. Experience counts for a lot.
  27. Do not game expenses. If any doubt, pay for it yourself. Think of the Dominion Post front page test. Do you want the Taxpayers Union after you?
  28. Keep a record of all gifts – you’ll need them for the the Register of Pecuniary Interests.


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