Justin Lester: Why Wellington, why Labour, and how did he make conference cry?

Written By: - Date published: 4:49 pm, March 12th, 2017 - 9 comments
Categories: labour, local government - Tags: ,

A really thoughtful profile of one of New Zealand’s new Labour mayors at Noted/The Listener.

Why Wellington?

“I grew up in Invercargill and hadn’t really left the South Island. We were playing a football tournament in Napier and we came in via Wellington and I was just astounded. There were skyscrapers! It was amazing.

“Lambton Quay: what a beautiful street the way it bends from the Beehive all the way down. Cuba St. The bucket fountain.”

The teenager had a crush. A few years later, there was a summer road trip in a Bedford van. He went surfing in Lyall Bay and watched the first one-day cricket international played at the Cake Tin (Roger Twose scored the winning runs against the West Indies in January 2000). Now, he was in love. “I thought, right, that is where I want to live when I finish uni.”

Why Labour?

“Sometimes people describe me as philosophically muddled because I run a business and yet I’m Labour. For me, the two go hand in hand. I see Labour as the party of ideas, prepared to reform and not happy with the status quo. National are doing a great job and they’re competent managers, but my criticism would be, if you have got this enormous political capital, then surely you can do more.”

Watching Helen Clark at an Otago ­University debate in 1999 sealed his fate. “I saw her in person and felt this ­enormous respect and I joined up straight away.”

And if you missed Lester’s speech at last year’s party conference, which had the room in tears, here’s what it meant being the son of a solo mum in the 90s.

Then I really blow it by saying his mum must have been proud when he won the mayoralty. “Yeah, she had a hard life. It is more the fact that no one really stuck up for her, acknowledged what she did. And I blamed her.”

And then he’s crying. He’s sorry. Why? Did you blame her? For what you missed out on? “Yeah.” Silence. “I blamed her that we didn’t have a father. That we were living with her. That we didn’t have any money.”

In December 1990, the new National Government announced that – because of a fiscal crisis and the bailout of the BNZ – they were cutting benefits. Lester had a paper round so he’d get the Southland Times for free and read it cover to cover.

“The media sentiment of the day was that if you were a beneficiary, you were a bludger. I could see Mum wasn’t, because she was trying. But she was broken. You could see it. She was a proud woman and refused charity but she was broken, depressed and anxious. I felt bad because I blamed her.”

9 comments on “Justin Lester: Why Wellington, why Labour, and how did he make conference cry?”

  1. Anne 1

    “The media sentiment of the day was that if you were a beneficiary, you were a bludger. I could see Mum wasn’t, because she was trying. But she was broken. You could see it. She was a proud woman and refused charity but she was broken, depressed and anxious. I felt bad because I blamed her.”

    Yes. I was there… tears in my eyes. So did most of the women who were sitting around me. If they felt like me then they were angry. Angry because it still goes on today. Husband/partner walks out because he’s found someone younger and newer. They’re left to bring up the kids on next to nothing and on their own. Yet still society jeers at them. Because, you see, they’re to blame. Its always the woman who is to blame.

    Sorry for the rant but it’s so very true.

    • Mrs Brillo 1.1

      Don’t be sorry, Anne. No need to apologise for reacting with understanding and sensitivity.

      It’s the bastards who create and perpetuate female poverty, and the child poverty they refuse to acknowledge which accompanies it, who owe us all an apology.

  2. Ethica 2

    Interesting turn around by Guyon Espiner because he backed another of the candidates for the Mayoralty.

  3. Muttonbird 3

    Not sure people say he’s philosophically muddled because he runs a business yet he’s Labour. They say it because of statements like, “National are doing a great job”.

    I find it weird.

    • Barfly 3.1

      “and they are competent managers ” Jesus f’ing Christ no they aren’t

    • Chris 3.2

      Yes, then he’s talking about the benefit cuts and victim blaming – precisely what the current national government’s still into. It’s the silliness of mixing local and national politics. Mayors can’t criticise central government because councils rely on central government. The other side of the same coin, of course, is that Labour mayors are also into benefit cuts and victim blaming. Heck, Lester’s into Helen Clark FSS. But then further again, most Labour supporters haven’t got a clue about the fundamental damage the Clark government did to social welfare benefits. It’s about getting your history and politics right, Justin.

  4. Keith 4

    “National are doing a great job and they’re competent managers”, seriously Justin? That kind of shallow analysis brings tears to my eyes!

    They are idiots unless you think the great job of starving public services of money, nurturing a housing crisis, polluting the environment, setting up tax havens, practicing corruption, racking up debt and steadily assisting a growing wealth gap to name but a few is competent!

    Worrying comments from a so called Labour man!

  5. DoublePlusGood 5

    “National are doing a great job and they’re competent managers”
    Yeah, I’ll echo the calls of WTF at this line. Makes me scared for Wellington’s finances and infrastructure that he might adopt National’s management techniques.

    • Ethica 5.1

      To be fair to Justin that is Guyon Espiner’s interpretation about what he said. There could have been a lot more context or qualification that wasn’t printed. Justin also had to stand up to Brownlee very determinedly after the earthquakes so that comment wouldn’t have applied in that context.

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