New MPs in for emotional rollercoaster

Published: Thu 4 Dec 2008 09:55 AM
New MPs in for emotional rollercoaster

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Dr Kathy Stuart
A daunting emotional journey awaits new MPs when the 49th New Zealand parliament sits for the first time next week, according to a Massey researcher.
Dr Kathy Stuart, who graduated with a PhD in Sociology last week, researched how MPs manage their emotions in the workplace. Using the passing of the Civil Union Bill as a case study, she observed the parliamentary debate and conducted in-depth interviews with MPs for the qualitative study.
Dr Stuart says becoming an MP entails developing a new occupational identity and learning to understand emotions differently.
“Parliament is not an ordinary workplace,” she says. “There is a central tension between the persona required to do the job and the actual person.”
Dr Stuart studied the way in which MPs spoke about their work and identified three “interpretative repertoires” which MPs used to manage their emotions: The Game, The Performance and The Crusade. “For example they’ll often talk about winning, defending and the rules, using the imagery of competition, or about taking hits and the shots fired as a way to frame their world.”
MPs were required to be both passionate and rational – two traits usually thought of as mutually exclusive.
“Society has rigid ideas about rationality and passion but MPs have to be both in order to carry out their role. It’s that passionate rationality which enables them to feel they are doing a good job as a parliamentarian and to retain a sense of integrity and personal authenticity.”
Rules govern the way MPs act in the debating chamber, but many MPs still find the action played out there objectionable at first. “After time, however, many come to understand that this behaviour has its place and is an important part of the process,” Dr Stuart says.
MPs interviewed spoke of the need to develop a new identity upon entering parliament, which could be an isolating environment.
“They talk about really being thrown in the deep end and it’s sink or swim,” Dr Stuart says. “It’s a different world from what they may have been doing previously and many said there wasn’t always a lot of support from colleagues in dealing with the emotional aspects of the job.”
MPs were also public property and defined by their new role. “One MP spoke of the change in the way people perceived them, of how people would jump on the fact they were a Member of Parliament, over everything else they’d done. They thought that was the most exhausting thing, the stress of how they were going to be perceived.”

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