What is it like to make that rapid transition from being a member of the public to being an elected Member of a legislature? How do they learn the ropes in a new and challenging political environment? How do they decide what they are going to do and how they are going to do it – defining for themselves a job without a job description? And do they have the resources to carry out their role effectively? How do they balance the expectations and demands of their constituents, their party, the media and others? What are they hoping to achieve, and how does the reality of the experience match up to their expectations?
This comparative study of newly elected legislators in four different institutions seeks to answer these and many other questions about the work of our elected representatives.
The project examines the experiences of the 2010 intake of MPs at Westminster, and the 2011 intake of Assembly Members in Wales, Members of the Scottish Parliament, and TDs in Dublin. It is an expanded version of a Hansard Society study of the 2005 intake of MPs.
The study in Ireland is being undertaken by Dr Mary C. Murphy from University College Cork in partnership with the Hansard Society).
Findings about MPs published so far include:
- The 2010 new intake of MPs initially expected a 60-hour week (plus eight hours travel) but six months on were working a 69-hour week;
- They split their working time 63% in Westminster and 37% in their constituencies – but constituency casework takes up the largest share of their time (28%), followed by constituency meetings/events (21%) and the Commons Chamber (21%);
- A vast number of the new intake report that long working hours and Westminster/constituency demands have a detrimental effect on their personal and family lives – comments such as ‘overwhelming’, ‘devastating’ and ‘a struggle’ are common;
- Over half of new MPs (56%) took a salary cut on becoming an MP
- The vast majority of new MPs don’t want to give up. At the start of the Parliament, 82% of new MPs aspired to make politics a long-term career and 55% aspired to become a minister.
The study has also found that while MPs were largely positive about the induction and support they received in the early weeks of office, many reported a feeling of ‘information overload’ as they began to get to grips with their work in Parliament. A key conclusion from the research is that many MPs felt that it would be beneficial to be allocated an experienced mentor from whom they could seek advice early on; a finding which underlines the importance of parliamentary officials and party staff working closely together to support future new intakes.
Findings from Wales include:
- The new AMs initially worked an average 49-hour week (plus nine hours travel). One year later they worked an average 57-hour week;
- In their first year, new AMs’ satisfaction with their work-life balance decreased considerably. Initially 83% were ‘fairly satisfied’ and 17% ‘not very satisfied’. One year on, 33% were ‘fairly satisfied’ and 50% ‘not very satisfied’
- They split their working time fairly evenly between debates in the Chamber (22%), committee work (21%), constituency casework (21%) and constituency meetings and events (18%);
- The new AMs were generally satisfied with the induction provided but would have benefited from more support in setting up their offices in the Assembly and the constituency;
- Half of the survey respondents said the AM salary (£53,852) represented a salary increase; for the other half it was a decrease or no change from their previous employment.
The research also highlights new AMs’ satisfaction with committee work in contrast to frustration with the way in which other aspects of the Assembly work – in particular plenary debates, financial scrutiny and First Minister’s Questions. The new AMs are generally critical of the media coverage of the Assembly. As the Assembly nears its 15th anniversary in 2014, and while a lively debate is underway – both inside and outside the Senedd – about the need for further reform, this report provides valuable insight into its workings through the eyes of new Members.
Work on the project is continuing with further interviews with Members and staff. A final report will be published towards the end of 2014.
- ‘A Fresh Start? The Induction of New MPs at Westminster Following The Parliamentary Expenses Scandal’, IPU-ASPG conference: ‘Effective Capacity Building Programmes for Parliamentarians’, Berne, 19-20 October 2011.
- ‘A Fresh Start? The Orientation and Induction of New MPs at Westminster Following the 2010 General Election’, Parliamentary Affairs, Vol 65, Issues 3, July 2012.
- ‘A Year in the Life: The First Year Experience of Newly Elected Members in Westminster, Cardiff and Edinburgh’, Tenth Workshop of Parliamentary Scholars and Parliamentarians, Wroxton College, 28-29 July 2012.
- House of Commons Procedure Committee, Sittings of the House and the Parliamentary Calendar, 2012. Written evidence. Oral evidence. Final report.
- House of Commons Administration Committee, Induction Arrangements for new Members of Parliament, 2013. Written evidence.
The final report on the 2005 intake of MPs at Westminster is also available:
Our 2005 ‘A Year in the Life’ study prompted widespread recognition at Westminster that the welcome and induction for new MPs needed to be improved. The Administration Committee held an inquiry into Post-election services and House of Commons officials sought to improve provision in 2010.
The Administration Committee again launched an inquiry following the 2010 election into MPs’ first weeks at Westminster. The Society’s senior researcher, Matt Korris, met with the Committee in private session in January 2013 to help Members scope their inquiry.
Data from the study has also been used by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority as part of its Review of MPs’ Pay and Pensions consultation and Hansard Society staff have attended IPSA consultation events to feed in the findings from the study.
The ‘A Year in the Life’ project has attracted considerable media attention, with coverage across a wide range of newspapers and broadcasters. A selection of these are listed below:
- The silly season that never stops: the weird demands from constituents to their MPs, Isabel Hardman, Spectator, 22 August 2013
- Dr Mary Murphy on New TDs, RTE Radio 1 Ireland, 26 July 2013
- Daíl’s newest intake deeply frustrated by its straitjacket, Irish Times, 20 July 2013
- Dr Ruth Fox on MPs’ pay, BBC Radio Scotland, 5 July 2013
- Matt Korris on MPs’ pay, BBC News Channel, 1 July 2013
- Matt Korris on MPs’ pay, BBC Radio 4 ‘The World At One’, 1 July 2013
- ‘Who works the most hours – MPs or teachers?’, Guardian, 23 April 2013
- ‘Different roles – but still working to help people’, South Wales Evening Post, 18 April 2013
- ‘The atmosphere in the Assembly is very different to Westminster’, Western Mail, 24 January 2013
- ‘Survey sheds light on AMs’ lives’, South Wales Argus, 23 January 2013
- ‘New AMs took £30k pay cut, says report on members’ lives‘, Wales Online, 23 January 2013
- ‘Welsh assembly: Two AMs took £30,000 pay cut, says Hansard Society’, BBC News, 23 January 2013
- ‘What should we pay MPs? You won’t like the answer’, Polly Toynbee, Guardian, 3 May 2012
- Matt Korris on the work of MPs and MPs’ holidays, BBC Radio Tees, 22 July 2011
- Matt Korris on the work of MPs, BBC Radio Lincoln, 12 July 2011
- ‘We work too hard, say new MPs’, Daily Express, 4 June 2011
- ‘New MPs say their lives have been ‘devastated’ by working in Commons (despite £65,000 salary!)’, Daily Mail, 3 June 2011
- ‘New MPs ‘struggle’ with long hours and workload’, BBC News, 3 June 2011
We are grateful to the National Assembly for Wales who supported the study of new Assembly Members. We would particularly like to thank to all the elected members, staff and parliamentary officials who have volunteered their time to participate in the project and provides many insights along the way, and our academic colleagues for their advice and ideas.
Photo credit: Commons Chamber by UK Parliament. Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament, under the following terms.