Our staff writer Aryaman Parulkar sat down with the Zaddy of Manawatu politics to see what an average week looks like for the MP and Workplace Relations and Safety Minister.
What do politicians actually do? They have yell at each other from across a room behind desks which are way too high for the seats behind, but what else? I got to speak to Palmy legend Iain Lees-Galloway to finally get to the bottom of it.
A zoom call with my local MP is closest thing to a celebrity encounter I’m going to get in Palmerston North. However, it was surprisingly very easy to get in touch with his PA and schedule a time for us to chat - not like he can really go anywhere anyways. We scheduled a Zoom call for 11am on Friday and almost slept through my alarm for it.
After my introduction, I asked the simple question of, ‘Take me through a typical day for you, pre Covid-19,’ to which he laughed and responded with, “It’s probably easier for me to take your through a week.” Yes of course, how silly of me to think politicians had regular work days like the rest of us peasants. Because Iain is both a minister and a local MP, his week gets unevenly split between two cities. From Monday to Thursday night he’s down in Wellington, chauffeured to and from in a town car. From one air-conditioned room to another, with cabinet meetings, committee meetings, question answering, and ministerial duties keeping him occupied from upsettingly early in the morning to well into Netflix and Chill territory. I wasn’t expecting such long hours in all honesty; I knew being a politician wasn’t easy, but I didn’t think they were working the equivalent of retail hours during Christmas. Once he’s done on a Thursday night, he gets driven back up to Palmy where he takes off one hat and puts on another. On Friday and Saturday, he’s the Palmy North local MP, speaking at events, walking around town in cargo shorts and holding babies; normal politician stuff ya know. But even the silver fox of the Manawatu lives in fear of getting called into work on a Sunday, a feeling his kids share, telling me “my kids hate my phone.”
The idea of a high-profile politician having to apply for leave humoured me, so I asked how it worked. Surely Aunty Cindy wouldn’t mind a weekend drinking wine in Martinborough? Apparently, she’s only concerned if he leaves the country, otherwise there are specific ministers that have been assigned the role of “whip”. Not the word I was expecting to come out the MP’s mouth, but it intrigued me nonetheless. Turns out it’s an old hunting term for the “whipper-in”, who would keep the hunting dogs in check. Make whatever connotations you’d like from that, but I will admit to being slightly let down.
Then I asked the very stereotypical question ‘What is your favourite part about being a politician?’ and he replied with, “A very stereotypical answer because it’s true: affecting change; positive change and making a difference.”
I would have expected nothing less than the most diplomatic answer for this question and Iain did not disappoint. Of course, it’s very cliché but there is only one right answer to it. Although you’d hope that’s what all politicians want. They’ve all got their own ideas for that that change might be but I’m sure being a decent person is in the job description. I asked the opposing question, about his least favourite part which was also an easy answer: the time spent away from home. Understandable when half the time you’re in another city, and when you are home you don’t really get to stop being a politician. We spoke about his involvement in mental health so I had to mention his push up challenge, congratulating him on now being able to do 25 in a row, a long way from his early days.
We had to talk about Covid-19 and quarantine and how life has changed, but essentially it was the same. He still had meetings and conference calls, which he probably takes in his pjs. He’s enjoyed being able to work from home where he can still be a minister and an MP, and being a big advocate of not cutting down trees, the paperless format made him happy too. He hoped that post-pandemic, people will keep using Zoom (which I wouldn’t be against either because group calls for Kahoot! are hella fun). By the end of it we were talking about how great Jacinda is which I had plenty to agree with. He told me to come say hi next time I was out and then we parted ways.
I ended the call feeling pretty humbled; at the end of the day, being a politician is still just a job with all the same obstacles as us working minimum wage.