Covering 100 years in 250 pages, Unity Books’ Tilly Lloyd’s review described Labour’s centenary history by Jim McAloon and Peter Franks as a ‘coherent skim.’ The book is overweight on earlier times and on caucus rather than party history in more recent times. Prefaces and prehistory take 50 pages to get to the starting line. The 23 years from Helen Clark’s accession to the leadership to the present is covered in as many pages. Of the 32 persons interviewed 28 were Members of Parliament. Surprisingly for a party history, Mike Williams, the second longest-serving President after Big Jim Roberts, was not included among them.
Much of the early story is already well known, although the authors have unearthed some useful additional information from various university theses. The later controversies have not been put to bed as the authors editorialising is light-handed. What is absolutely certain is that this book is nowhere near the last word, particularly so in the case of the last thirty-five years. Further evidence for this is shown by the fact that the Labour History Project, chaired by Jim McAloon, one of the authors, has just advertised for an archivist to identify and collate Labour Party records.
The authors were at pains to state, rightly, that not everyone’s views could be included. but it is a pity for example that Graham Kelly’s caucus diary was not able to be set beside Michael Bassett’s published perception which colours a large part of the chapter dealing with the fourth Labour government.
Mike Williams’ omission is less understandable. He is pictured in the book as a staff member in 1981. By the 1984 election he was principal fundraiser and also ran the marginal seats operation. I regard him as one of the best political brains in Australasia, a view shared by the astute ALP Federal Secretary and later Minister Bob McMullan, who hired Mike out from under the New Zealand Labour Party in 1985. He was a consultant fundraiser and ran the direct mail campaign in the 1987 election. After selling his marketing business he was invited to be the campaign manager in 1998 and chaired the campaign committee. Elected President in 2000, as he relayed to the seminar associated with the book launch he had to personally guarantee a bank loan against his house in order to pay the party staff. He continued as a highly effective fundraiser throughout his term in office.
Mike’s dedication to the Labour party is visceral, and like Big Jim Roberts he had no aspirations for a parliamentary career. Helen Clark relied on his advice in her regular Sunday round of phone calls. Mike was also the brains behind the party organisation’s under-the-radar direct mail operation that made the crucial difference in the 2005 election, guaranteeing three more years of Labour policy achievement. Mike continues to offer astute political comment on Radio New Zealand’s popular Nine to Noon programme. Had the authors sought his input, I am sure that their assessment of the contribution made by the Party organisation over those years would have been much better informed.