Paula Bennett on Simon Bridges and the realities of life as an MP


So you want to be an MP? I am approached every second week by someone who thinks they want to be an MP. With Simon Bridges announcing his retirement and a by-election looming and me being 18 months out of Parliament, I figured now might be a good time to lay out a few of the realities.

But first a little on the “shock” announcement of Simon leaving. It’s not a shock. In the real world outside of Parliament, 14 years in a job is a long time. It is healthy to have turnover. Simon is 45 years old and has always wanted another career outside of Parliament.

He is incredibly bright, has one of the strongest work ethics of anyone I have ever met, is thoughtful, considered and ambitious. He has given selflessly to public service, often at the sacrifice of family time, and now is his time to embark on a new adventure. We were workmates when we came together as leader and deputy leader of the National Party. We ended that time – and continue to be – friends by choice. He dealt with more criticism and judgment thanany leader I have worked with and he got up every day in whatever role he had, parked his feelings and got on with the job at hand to the best of his ability and with a resilience I deeply admire. Go forth, Simon, and give it heaps.

So, you want to stand for Parliament? You will never have a job like it. It is truly humbling to represent the interests of people. From the downtrodden, to the frustrated, to the heartbroken, to the nutty opinionated constituents, it is a privilege to advocate, listen and represent them all. The role of a minister is something else. The workload is huge. You make decisions that will shape everyday New Zealanders’ lives. You see the best and worst of people and society as a whole. You have a plan and are part of something big, it consumes you and is exhilarating. You don’t watch the news – you are the news. Now that’s the good part.

Most MPs won’t become ministers, so you won’t get to implement policy and your ideas. Yes, you will have a say on legislation as it goes through its stages and, if you’re lucky and get your member’s bill idea past your caucus and then drawn from a ballot, you can see that through but you are a bit player in the scheme of Parliament. You will pretend you don’t care but you won’t understand why colleagues are promoted ahead of you.

Your family think it’s cool at first – you’re important and they point out your face on a billboard and laugh. Then you miss another birthday, fall asleep on the couch at a family function, go to bed at 8.30 on a Saturday night (the only night you’re home that week) and spend all day Sunday doing paperwork to prep for the week ahead. Not so much fun now. You do your best and suggest brunch, where you get cornered asked to pose for photos. Not so much fun now. Everyone has an opinion on you and what you are doing. Some of it is creepy adoration and some just plain nasty but mostly it’s kind and you are grateful (I will leave the social media septic environment for another column).

You got into the job because you love people, but you can’t admit that you’re tired and you’re hearing the same thing over and over. You need to be interesting – I heard and saw some of the most harrowing personal stories that still haunt me today – but can you then get on a stage and engage a crowd 30 minutes later? If you don’t feel it, don’t be in the job.

I loved it. I am so pleased to be out of it. I gave it everything I had but tried not to let it define all of who I am. So you want to be an MP? Go for it, but I would not recommend it to my children.

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