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Labour’s Centenary History

Written By: - Date published: 4:29 pm, July 26th, 2016 - 12 comments
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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.

12 comments on “Labour’s Centenary History ”

  1. rhinocrates 1

    Whatever he did in the past, based on his present performance, all Williams would have written is “Iagreewithmatthew Iagreewithmatthew I agreewithmatthew…” until someone tasered him.

  2. Anne 2

    I agree with you Mike Smith. I was introduced to one of the authors a few years back and he was very interested in my party background and took my contact details. I never heard from him again which didn’t surprise me. A comment I made subsequent to the show of interest was met with disapproval by his partner so I assumed that was probably the end of me. Perhaps something similar happened to Mike Williams. A bit of selective interviewing perhaps? Btw, I haven’t read the book as yet.

  3. Wainwright 3

    No surprises there. Everyone wants to go hooray hooray for Micky Savage and pretend the 80s didn’t occur and aren’t still a barrier to the entire socialist project.

  4. mickysavage 4

    I agree about Mike Williams. He was a very astute canny president and played a major role in the 5th Labour Government. Interesting the authors almost blame the Standard for Shearer’s demise …

    • Anne 4.1

      Interesting the authors almost blame the Standard for Shearer’s demise …

      That is indeed interesting mickysavage. I mentioned a bit of ‘selective interviewing’ in my comment above and it sounds like it’s true. The fact only 4 party or former party members (who often have the biggest trove of historical information) were interviewed, suggests part of the book at least has been somewhat skewed by the perception of the parliamentarians. 😈

      • Anne 4.1.1

        And the pertinent point to make about Shearer’s demise is that most party members who comment here were not anti Shearer- far from it. In my case I felt he was pushed into the role without sufficient parliamentary experience. And that proved to be the case as he, himself, probably now recognises.

    • Ovid 4.2

      Interesting the authors almost blame the Standard for Shearer’s demise …

      I knew setting up Standardista’s Elocutionists and Fishmongers was a bad idea.

    • lprent 4.3

      Interesting the authors almost blame the Standard for Shearer’s demise…

      I thought that was just amusing and a classic skim observation from the outside.

      My observation was that the NZLP members writing on The Standard tend to reflect what is happening in the party rather than drive it.

      The two trustees of the site, myself and Mike were of opposite opinions. Of the authors writing around the time before David Shearer resigned, the split was about 50:50 on if he should go or not. The commenters were probably a bit over that against David Shearer.

      But this really isn’t hard to identify. You can go into the Archives for the right months and just read the posts.

      Sure The Standard is influential in that it disperses viewpoints amongst people of the left. But it doesn’t drive them because it doesn’t run more than the most sketchy editorial policy (mostly influenced by not wanting to waste time in courts).

      Personally I think that the speech made by David Shearer about a sickness beneficiary up fixing their roof was the most influential effect in his demise. The best post on it here was from author Bill, who wasn’t a NZLP member (more of a gentle anarchist politically) but who was a sickness beneficiary.. It crystallised a lot of irritation about the direction that David Shearer was trying to drag the party towards into outright anger – and set the course of the tragicomedy that became the 2012 conference.

      Now you have to remember that the NZLP is a big broad party membership wide. For instance I’ve been generally regarded as being on the right of the party. I’m a economic dry liberal who recognises that companies are good at short term, but can’t plan coherently for more than 3-4 years. I’m a progressive social liberal simply because I think that generally people should be able to do what they want, up to the point where they impact badly on others – and the state is the most effective body to deal with those interactions. I’m irreligious but I tend to respect the strong set of social religious influences inside the party (as anyone who observes members of the labour party is aware, the social conscience religious are quite persistent and influential). I’ve never been in a union, but I’ve come from a personal and family management background that has always worked with unions, so I’m not terrified of the idea of workers working cooperatively like some of our anti-socialist nutters are.

      What I am not is a mindless knee-jerk envy conservative like the Pagani political model pushed, and that is exactly what that sickness beneficiary bashing speech was meant to appealing to. It just pissed me off.

      The 2012 conference had many if not most members wanting to change the way that the NZLP was operating. Primarily because the parliamentary labour caucus were (in my opinion) starting to behave like self-entitled arseholes. Many had gotten to the point that where they no longer listened to members in anything but a condescending manner. David Shearer and his advisers appeared to be right in the front of that from everything from his own electorate LEC through to the way that stupid idiocies like that bloody bennie on the roof speech even came to be contemplated. And I don’t think that many members were that happy with the way that a novice first term MP got picked by the parliamentary caucus because it was the only way to resolve their damn faction in-fighting.

      So the rules were up to be changed at the conference after a pretty major consultation. And they were. The first day went pretty well. The process got followed. The vote was taken.. Looked good.

      On the second day, some political morons were busy briefing the media that David Cunliffe was trying to undermine David Shearer and was planning to roll him. Which in my view and from what I was observing was complete and utter crap. However it was a good story to feed to media and give them a nice feeding frenzy (Paddy Gower playing 50 questions with a bailed up Cunliffe on the stairs being the most extreme version of it).

      For me, that was when I pretty well decided that David Shear was a political nincompoop and had to go as leader, and that I’d be voting party voting Green in the following election because I was sick of the idiotic antics in the Labour caucus destroying the hard work of NZLP members.

      I expressed that view on The Standard along with other more ‘left’ authors and commenters and there was a lot of discussion and argument between various people on here about it. But those discussions were also going in the background here and inside the party as well. The Standard simply made them visible to wider audience and made it harder to conceal a active argument inside the NZLP about direction. It was bad enough that the neglect of the party organisation over the 1990s and 2000s has diminished the membership so badly. But when the parliamentarians started to try to just ignore the remaining party members, they received some sharp lessons about involvement. Our novice and inept leader at the time, David Shearer, was just collateral damage.

      • Anne 4.3.1

        Great summary. Thanks Iprent.

        That 2012 conference is worthy of a remake into a comedy/drama. How I wish I was a shutterbug because some if the things I witnessed were so surreal, they were almost straight out of Alice in Wonderland. The most outrageous was seeing a TV1 crew (5 or 6 of them) draped around the door to the Men’s loo in the lobby. A few minutes later Phil Goff tumbled through the door and found himself cornered. He couldn’t move forward and he couldn’t move sideways. He looked thoroughly embarrassed but held his temper. The TV media ambushes and behaviour generally was so tacky and disgraceful that, with the benefit of hindsight, the L.P. hierarchy should have laid formal complaints to the respective news media managements.

        As for the sickness beneficiary up fixing their roof … it should be noted his main adviser at the time was one, John Pagani. From memory, Mr Pagani departed the political scene very soon after that debacle.

        But the most important thing to come out of that conference is that David Cunliffe did nothing to suggest he was conducting a leadership coup. On the contrary he seemed to be trying very hard to lie low. So the whole episode was reminiscent of the Liu affair… lies, more lies and incredible stupidity.

  5. Chris 5

    “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.”

    Spot the oxymoron.

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