Why are we doing it?
The role of parliamentarians is complex, their work is little understood, and they operate in an environment of, often, unmanageable expectations.
Once a person is elected to Parliament, he or she is no longer regarded like other citizens but rather as a member of an exclusive club, out of touch and unable to relate to ‘ordinary’ people.
But what is life really like as a new MP? How do they make that rapid transition from being a member of the public to a Member of Parliament? What really happens after the votes are counted and the acceptance speeches made, in other words once the real work begins?
By studying the first year experience of new MPs, we are generating new insights into the life and work of our elected representatives, creating a comparative dataset so that legislatures can learn from each other about how best to support Members in their work, and aiding the future improvement of orientation, induction and professional development programmes for our representatives. What are we doing?
Through multiple surveys of new Members during their first year in office, augmented by semi-structured interviews with them and parliamentary staff in four legislatures, we are exploring the life and work of MPs and how it is changing over time.
MPs have no clear job description, there are no specific qualifications or training required for the role, the only criteria for judging success or failure is electoral victory, and most careers are therefore said to ultimately end in failure.
So 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? How do they learn the ropes in a new and challenging political environment? 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?
Thus far we have examined the experiences of the 2005 and 2010 intake of MPs at Westminster and the 2011 intake of AMs in Cardiff, MSP’s in Edinburgh, and TDs in Dublin. We are currently undertaking research with the new intake following the 2015 election at Westminster and will shortly begin research with the new Members following the 2016 elections in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We hope to extend the study to Northern Ireland in 2016-17 as well.
Our reports on the experience of the 2005 and 2010 intake of MPs were utilised by the Administration Committee of the House of Commons during its inquiries into post-election services. House officials particularly used the research to inform the improvement of the orientation and induction offerings provided to Members at the 2010 and 2015 elections. The study was also used by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority during its Review of MP’s Pay and Pensions.
In 2011 the National Assembly for Wales commissioned us to extend our Westminster study to Cardiff in order to provide an independent research base about the first year experience of new AMs, particularly regarding their attitudes to the orientation and induction provided. This in turn informed the provision of professional development support during the course of the Assembly term and the curation of the induction programme for the new AMs following the 2016 election.
The study of Irish TDs was launched at the Dail in 2013 – the Ceann Comhairle, Sean Barrett and Government Chief Whip, Paul Kehoe both spoke at the event. The findings have been used by parliamentary staff to inform their approach to induction of the new intake of TDs following the 2016 election.