Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Guest post: New school

We are really excited to be bringing you our first guest post from a bonafide Member of Parliament. Jacinda Ardern is part of the new Labour intake from 2008, a Hand Mirror reader from way back, and an all-round fantastic person. We asked her to write about her impressions of the House as a newbie and she's responded as follows.

Pam Corkery once likened a new MPs first weeks in Parliament to starting a new boarding school. In some ways, she's right.

You're thrown into a flurry of inductions covering everything from setting up an electorate office, right through to the correct use of the microphones in the debating chamber (yes, there is indeed a right and wrong way to talk into a mic that doesn't move). And when the house is sitting in Urgency, which essentially means staying in Parliament Buildings from 9am till midnight, you suddenly find yourself having three meals a day in the same cafeteria, with the same people.

But for me, that is where the analogy ends. Unlike a newbie in the scary environment of a school, I mostly feel privileged to be here, and an enormous sense of responsibility.

I'm the youngest member of the new Parliament, a fact I am reminded of on a pretty regular basis. During the election campaign I had my fair share of (usually elderly gentlemen) telling me I was too young to be a candidate. Perhaps in an effort to be constructive, I was sometimes lucky enough get a follow up offer of marriage if I was looking for something else to occupy my time.

The election may be over, but the 'yuff' label lingers. The day I was sworn into parliament Radio Live wanted to chat about being 'young and new'. Much like the gentlemen in my electorate, the interviewer didn't mince her words, pointing out that my interest in politics from a pretty young age meant I could hardly purport to represent the majority of young people. My response to that is simple - I don't.

My age, just like my gender, does not give me the right to represent any particular group. But it does give me a sense of responsibility to ensure that young people have a voice in parliament, whether that means ensuring there are platforms for young people to have their say, or by building a greater understanding of the issues effecting young kiwis. Whatever the method, it's a continuous one. I don't believe a mandate is simply gifted to you once every three years. It must be earned, and it must be maintained.

Perhaps I was wrong on this school analogy - there may not be an exam at the end of this term, but there will certainly be a rather telling feedback session called an election.

Just as long as they don't poll the old man in the Waikato who's looking for a wife…...


Anna said...

Thanks, Jacinda, and congrats on your new job!

That's a stunning bit of circular logic from some of your older male counterparts. Saying that only those interested in party politics should be represented is hardly going to get new people interested, or help them feel that they're being represented.

I'm really looking forward to seeing some vigorous opposition from Labour, including the perspectives of those who aren't WASPs. I think this is a real strength which the new Labour guard will bring - something that the Nats have traditionally been weak on.

Julie said...

It'll be interesting to see how you find things once Select Committees are up and running - both a more intimate environment than the House itself, but also somewhere with less rigid rules about talking over people etc.

I can recall a number of occasions when people have dismissed someone on the basis of their youth, particularly if they are a woman. One memorable time there had been a fantastic speech in favour of a remit from a young man (I think he was in his early twenties, although he had a baby face) and then the much older gentlemen who spoke immediately after him just dismissed all his points by stating "well that's all well and good when you are 18, but when you've been around as long as me..." Argh!

Principessa said...

I can remember a really hilarious story I heard Pam Corkery telling on talk back one night. When she was a new MP *someone* put a tampon in a sugar bowl in one of the lounges and a male member looked at it at yelled "By God, it's a woman's implement!"

Hamish said...

> My age, just like my gender, does not
> give me the right to represent any
> particular group.


eT said... interest in politics from a pretty young age meant I could hardly purport to represent the majority of young people

What a belligerent questioner. Your political acumen and good sense came to the fore, of course. In the same position, I probably would've told the interviewer that young people who aren't interested in politics are ignorant and therefore probably wouldn't care in the slightest whether they were being represented or not.

Kate Sutton said...

Love it Jacinda you are my hero! I too had so many people saying that I was too young to be a candidate and was asked out on way more dates by old men than I like to remember! But I also had plenty of people say how glad they were too see a young face running and a woman too.

Ari said...

Good luck in Parliament Jacinda, and I hope we can look forward to a member's bill and some strong opposition politics . :)

It's always good to see new faces in parliament that make it a little more like the rest of New Zealand, and I'm sure not everyone will be as rude as the interviewer you mentioned. ;)

Hopefully the older men get it through their brains that young women can do more than marry themselves off... ><