Has any Labour front bencher ever had a job in the private sector?

A lot of this election campaign has been on how to spend the tax revenue the Government collects. Very little has been on how to have policies that support the businesses that provides the jobs and tax revenue for the Government.

Those who have never worked in the private sector tend to have little idea what it is like. They think it is easy. You get statements from the leader declaring that yes they’ll tax water, but at a level to ensure farmers can stay profitable. That in itself shows a lack of understanding of business. Even business owners and directors can’t ensure profitability. You are subject to custimer demand, market prices, expenses, cashflow, financing.

I was once like many MPs, thinking I understood business. I had worked for a charity doing their finances so thought I understood profit, loss etc. But then I worked for a small struggling advertising agency and found out first hand how hard it is. It isn’t just about your paper profit. It is about managaing cashflow, creditors, the IRD etc. It is about the business owners sometimes paying themselves less than the receptionist, so the firm survives.

So anyway I thought it would be interesting to look at how many Labour front bench MPs have worked in the private sector. 87% of all jobs in New Zealand are in the private sector. Now some of those are non-profit jobs but I’d estimate around 75% of jobs would be in the for-profit sector.

So putting aside part-time and holiday jobs while studying, what is the occupational backgrounds of the likely front bench Labour Cabinet Ministers? How many of them have worked in the private sector (by which I mean employers that need to sell a good or service).

  1. Jacinda Ardern – nil private sector experience. Worked in Parliament, UK Government and a US union. Did once demonstrate cookware at Farmers though.
  2. Kelvin Davis – nil private sector experience. Worked as a teacher or for Ministry of Education.
  3. Andrew Little – nil private sector experience. Worked in student politics then unions.
  4. Grant Robertsonnil private sector experience. Worked in student politics then MFAT and Otago University
  5. Phil Twyford – worked as a journalist for the Auckland Star and a promoter for Book Month so the first Labour MP to have some private sector experience. Otherwise worked for Oxfam, including as a lobbyist in DC for them.
  6. Megan Woods – has been a copywriter for a private business, and did business development for a CRI.
  7. Chris Hipkins – nil private sector experience – student politics, an Industry Training Organisation (Govt funded) and Parliament
  8. Carmel Sepuloni – nil private sector experience – teaching, NGOs and university
  9. David Clark – nil private sector experience – Treasury, church and Selwyn College

So the total private sector for profit work experience of the nine most senior Labour MPs is basically as a journalist on a community newspaer and a copywriter for a business. That’s it. Think about that. None of them have ever paid PAYE, or really been in a job where a failure to keep customers happy means you are out of a job.

Now compare that to the top nine for National.

  1. Bill English – farming when young (but on family farm, not his own)
  2. Paula Bennett – worked as a recruitment consultant
  3. Steven Joyce – set up his own company when almost a teenager and turned it into Mediaworks
  4. Gerry Brownlee – carpenter
  5. Simon Bridges – lawyer
  6. Amy Adams – farmer and lawyer
  7. Jonathan Coleman – General Practitioner and business consultant
  8. Chris FInlayson – lawyer
  9. Michael Woodhouse – private hospitals CEO

It’s a stark difference.

The Labour front bench is almost entirely comprised of people who have never worked outside politics, or certainly not in the private sector. Now I’m in no way saying that private sector experience should be a litmus test for becoming an MP. Of course not. Many fine MPs who have not worked in the private sector.

But my point is that Labour is hugely imbalanced. It is almost starved of people with empathy for the private sector (where 75%+ of the jobs are). David Parker is probably the only MP they’ve got who has truly has skin in the game (several significant commercial ventures) and Damien O’Connor the only farmer.

Decisions in a Government are made by the top few Ministers. That would be Ardern, Robertson, Davis, Little and Hipkins. I don’t think any of them have bad intentions. I just think they don’t get it. They have no idea what it is really like to have to worry about having enough money to pay your staff, to pay your suppliers, to manage the bank repayments for the business loan etc. They just see the private sector as an unlimited source of money for them to spend.

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