I didn’t have a strong preference in the recently completed Labour caucus leadership contest. I marginally favoured Andrew Little, but also didn’t know very much about him.
Now the media are looking to find out more about him. Andrea Vance has an informative article about him. If anything, Andrew Little’s considered, measured, reasonable and blunt approach is being foregrounded in the media, in spite of some journalists just uncritically repeating National Party spin.
In her article Vance reports how Little is standing firm and exposing the smear lines already being used by National’s well-oiled attack machine.
National are already sharpening their spin.
As well as being the man no-one wanted (in both his caucus and home-town New Plymouth electorate), political rivals will decry Little as a stooge, installed by the unions and the scourge of business owners.
He’s got National’s number, but says he won’t pretend to be someone else.
“Let them go. I’m not going to resile from being passionate about working men and women being looked after, having a voice, and being able to go to work safe and earn well. That’s what I stand for.
“The National party have continued to run what I think is a very 1970s prejudice about unions … We have [in New Zealand] accepted a culture that if you are big, bold and brassy you will stand up for yourself. But [this] Government is even stripping away protections [from] those who are bold enough to do so.
“I think New Zealanders are ready for someone who will talk bluntly about those who are being left behind. That’s what I’ll be doing.”
He’s no frothing firebrand.
“I guess what I’m pretty good at is picking the right fights … I can turn on the controlled anger when I need to to demonstrate a point.”
In his favour is respect won from the corporate world in the last two decades.
From Vance’s article, I learned something about Little’s background. His parents where National Party supporters. It was Muldoon’s government and the 1981 Springbok rugby tour, that turned Little to the left.
The 1981 Springbok tour, when he was 16, was a “galvanising experience”.
“I saw [Robert] Muldoon and the National Party being at its most cynical and its most unjust. And I think that’s where I departed from my parents’ political views.”
Little has since won over his mum, now 91, and she – and her National Party friends – gave him her vote.
The main criticism of Little by Vance, is that he was late for the press conference on his first official day as leader. This is put down to Little not using alarm clocks to wake in the morning. He prefers to use natural sleep rhythms to get him the rest his body needs.
A good political leader does need to know how to protect and conserve their energy for the long haul.
I reckon that Little has pretty much hit the ground running this week. He made a “blunt” but well-focused statement about the Sutton debacle. He has remained composed, in spite of some mainstream journalists uncritically running the National Party smear lines against him. And he has already begun to stamp his mark on his approach to leading Labour.
Vance reports that Little says he picks his fights. However, he will take a strong stand when it is required:
At his first press conference on Tuesday, Little said: “I’m not a product of anybody’s PR machine.”
But a whirl of media interviews, including with women’s mags, is necessary to initially build a public profile, building up to a crucial state of the nation speech in January.
“A blunt communicator, calling it as it is,” is how he eventually hopes to be seen by voters.
“They’ll see that when there is a fight to be had that I’m up for the fight.”
Like many others on the left, I am hopeful that Little will be the leader the Labour Party needs to strongly lead the left into the next election in 3 years time. I will be watching with interest how he tackles the difficult issues and the infotainment media.