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Breathing Through their Noses: Candidate Selection and Role Adaptation amongst First-Term MPs in the New Zealand Parliament

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posted on 2023-03-14, 23:27 authored by Barnes, Steven

Sir Keith Holyoake, New Zealand Prime Minister from 1960 to 1972, famously counselled first-term Members of Parliament to ‘breathe through their noses’, suggesting that it was in their best interests to keep their heads down and mouths shut. Perhaps this recommendation is instrumental in the low profile of first-term MPs in New Zealand and the subsequent dearth of information available about these individuals. Within political science, scholarly attention has tended to focus on the ‘power holders’ – senior leaders and those perceived to have the most influence. In New Zealand, this has resulted in a growing field of literature about prime ministers, party leaders, and the few parliamentarians who reach cabinet. This thesis steps back from power holders to shed light on new MPs. It is important to know who new MPs are. Within parliamentary systems MPs often serve long apprenticeships before being promoted to the senior positions of their party and government. Thus MPs who enter parliament today may hold significant influence in the future. However, very little is known about legislators when they enter parliament. Do all Members of Parliament wish to become ministers or prime ministers, or do they have more modest aspirations, such as being the best local MP they possibly can? By understanding the motivations of our neophyte politicians we can better understand the types of people who are likely to become significant political actors in the future. This study aims to understand how and why individuals become MPs and how they adapt to the role once they have been elected. This thesis uses information gained from two rounds of interviews conducted with first-term Members of Parliament during their first nine months in office. Thus this research presents an insight into how MPs view candidate selection and follows them through their first few months in the job as they reconcile their pre-election expectations with the roles expected of MPs. The result is an account of how individuals become MPs and the roles they develop once elected.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Political Science

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Johansson, Jon; Levine, Stephen