Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

From back office to front bench

So many political staffers have become MPs that there are worries of an `insider class' with no deep convictions.

Should recently selected party insider Chris McKenzie retain co-leader Tariana Turia's Te Tai Hauauru seat for the Maori Party next year, he will become the latest in an increasingly long line of those who have made the leap from political employee to MP.

Phil Goff, former employer of a handful of present MPs, says a stint working in Parliament is the perfect training ground for those with ambitions of changing society for the better through politics. But former Act MP Stephen Franks says the increasingly well worn path from the Beehive's back offices to a seat in the House is symptomatic of the worrying rise of a self-interested political class.

If you are a New Zealand MP, there's a one in 10 chance you worked for your party in Parliament before getting elected. And if you are one of those 12 current MPs who has worked in Parliament before, there's a better than one in three chance you worked for Phil Goff.

The crop of Goff office graduates in Parliament comprises Labour's David Shearer, Kris Faafoi, Jacinda Ardern, Moana Mackey and National list MP Paul Goldsmith. "Five disciples and a renegade", jokes Mr Goff. "Maybe they thought if this guy can do it, anybody can do it."

But on a serious note, Mr Goff says working for a party or an MP in Parliament is a good apprenticeship for those with political aspirations.

"People get interested in the difference you can make in politics and the fascination of the political process and how you can move an idea forward and turn it into a reality on the ground and make a difference to people's lives. When they become MPs they can hit the ground running. It gives them a real advantage in terms of their effectiveness as MPs.

"Look at how quickly Jacinda and Grant Robertson managed to rise to the front bench. You can attribute a lot of that to the knowledge and understanding of how Parliament and the executive works. So I think it's a very effective training ground."

But Mr Franks said the number of MPs who've come from the ranks of party employees parallels the emergence of a "political class", a group of people "who've never done anything else with their lives".

He is worried such people have achieved little "other than worming their way around political process and therefore will be judged on politics as if it's a game".

"It's an insider class. They tend to be a bit contemptuous of outsiders, they tend to share more with their opponents who have a similar background than those they purport to represent. There's an absence of deep conviction and there's no external track record on which to judge them. All we know is whether they're good at the game which is basically the game of greasing."

That said, some former political staffers who now sit in Parliament are excellent MPs, he concedes. The problem is the number coming through.

He is concerned at what he sees as a burgeoning crop of party employees, "very ambitious young people expecting to progress through to politics at a young age".

"They are getting the inside running into careers because of the party selection system that in theory was designed to find people who could best represent the party's values."

How to succeed in politics MPs and their former parliamentary or party jobs:

National

Paul Goldsmith: Press secretary and speech writer for Phil Goff (Labour), Simon Upton (National) and John Banks.
Nikki Kaye: Policy researcher for Bill English.
Paula Bennett: Worked in Murray McCully's electorate office.
Steven Joyce: National's campaign manager.

Labour

Grant Robertson: Adviser to Helen Clark.
David Shearer: Adviser to Phil Goff.
Kris Faafoi: Press secretary to Phil Goff.
Jacinda Ardern: Researcher for Phil Goff and Helen Clark.
Moana Mackey: Worked for Phil Goff.
Chris Hipkins: Former adviser to Trevor Mallard and Helen Clark.
Meka Whaitiri: Worked for Parekura Horomia on secondment from Te Puni Kokiri.

Greens

Russel Norman: Assistant to Green MPs Sue Kedgley, Nandor Tanczos and Keith Locke.
Holly Walker: Media adviser.
Julie Anne Genter: Media and political adviser.
Jan Logie: Sue Bradford's executive assistant.
Gareth Hughes: Worked for the Green Party on climate change issues.

- NZ Herald

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