A really thoughtful profile of one of New Zealand’s new Labour mayors at Noted/The Listener.
“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.”
— Justin Lester (@justin_lester) January 17, 2017
“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.”
Great day for a spot of jumbo tennis. Playing for the Samaritans, an organisation focused on supporting people at their most vulnerable pic.twitter.com/mgWa6f96Nj
— Justin Lester (@justin_lester) March 3, 2017
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.”