The misunderstanding by TV1 and the NZ Herald over Melissa Lee as the List MP for Mount Albert has raised the subject of Buddy MPs.
In the old days under First Past the Post Labour and National used to assign MPs to neighbouring electorates which the party didn’t hold.
These Buddy MPs didn’t have offices, but they provided an alternative advocate from the sitting MP for constituents and also provided a focus for party members and supporters.
MMP has changed things a bit because electorates have increased in geographical size and the number of constituents and other parties have entered parliament.
The wee parties with only a handful of MPs can’t spread themselves over all the electorates in the country. But Labour and National have tried to ensure they have a presence in each electorate they don’t hold and because list MPs have an allowance for a base and staff they often set up an office.
David Parker, who lost Otago to Jacqui Dean in 2005, kept a staffed office in Oamaru and an empty one in Alexandra for the next three years and called himself the Otago Labour MP or variations on that theme. I haven’t noticed any signage for the offices since the last election and as his party holds only two electorates south of Christchurch it may indicate the party has given up on the big rural electorate to have a presence in Invercargill and/or Timaru.
Katherine Rich had an office in Dunedin and was known as that city’s National list MP throughout her term in parliament. Her successor Michael Woodhouse has a Dunedin base and is referred to as Dunedin list MP.
Labour kept an office in Timaru after losing the Aoraki electorate to Jo Goodhew in 2005 and regularly advertised it as the base for Labour’s Timaru electorate MP, although there isn’t a Timaru Electorate and hasn’t been one since 1996.
Buddy MPs may be motivated at least as much by a desire to promote themselves and their parties as they are by helping people but they do give people an alternative point of contact for assistance or advocacy.
They also help keep electorate MPs’ attention on their electorates and constituents because they know the Buddy MPs will take any opportunity they give them to make political capital from any shortcomings – real or perceived – in their performance.