Winston you were my man when your dark brown wavy hair and beatific smile rose to glory within National when National needed to prove again that Maori could rise to elected respectability within even the most tilted of social structures. You were partnership material at Russel McVeigh like no Maori before you. Women secretly swooned for you. You were like George Hamilton III had emerged fully formed as a perfect symbol of bicultural New Zealand before the term was even invented.
You were the highest of one of those few loyal and deeply patriotic families of New Zealand who felt that serving both the law and as a Member of Parliament was the essence of honour and of being a patriot for your country. Like serving in law and in parliament was the kind of patriotism we used to feel from our military. But you rose even higher, and for longer, than your brothers.
Winston you were my man because straight after graduation you stood up for your people the Ngati Wai successfully against Labour’s attempt to take land for coastal reserves – giving inspiration to Dame Whina Cooper and the great Land March. You rose to fight, and won, and you did so for your people.
Winston I love you because you were the one who in defeating Malcolm Douglas in Hunua in 1978, ensured that there was no succession plan for Roger Douglas his brother. Labour would crest and crack in the late 1980s, but it would never recover its foolish Rogernomics ways without a broader core of support.
Winston I love you for loving our country as much as your namesake loved his. Rising under the nationalist economics of Birch and Muldoon in the face of global crisis, you understood the deep and permanent reliance of New Zealand business on a very strong state which needed large subsidies for production sustained by taxing wealth highly. It always has and always will. Back – though few now remember it – when state-enforced egalitarianism through tax was an actuality, not running like a dog hiding under the political bed from thunder.
You kept alive that memory of the state working to develop the weakest with real and believable enterprise for five decades of public service in Parliament, until you could truly bring it out once more in its strong form of the Provincial Growth Fund. Maybe it will take us a decade to understand its impact, but you back yourself enough to know that it will be good.
Winston I love you because you were the one who really first sank the shank into the Lange-Douglas regime through ripping open the corruption of the Maori Loan Affair in 1986. In December 1986 you completely sideswiped that government with revelations that the Department of Maori Affairs had sought to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from a fraudster. As Labour ex-Minister and eminent political historian Michael Bassett commented: “Several ministers would agree in later years, that it was about the time of the Maori loans affair that cabinet solidarity began to fall apart.” The following Commission of Inquiry fully vindicated you, and set your course to prepare the full reform how Maori were engaged by the Crown as a Department. You saw the infection of fraudulent international capital for what it was, when most in government and in the financial sector were bedazzled by it.
You would describe players like John Key as “apologists for crooks“. You would name those crooks like few would have the courage to do so.
Winston you were my man who loved the law. Not the law as a set of enforcement measures that gets changed according to policy whim. No: law as the very warp and weft of our social order which has grown thread by thread since 1840 andas the utter substance of the operation and constitution of New Zealand as a nation. You who went by the law, saturated your mind and cloth in the law, recognised the primacy of the law, you fought for all to be held to that sacred framework of common accountability – like no one else had before. Because without all being subservient to the law, we would remain a colony and Maori forever colonised.
Winston, I loved you for being the regulator we always should have had. Your scorching of the Serious Fraud Office and Inland Revenue Department through the Winebox inquiry was a first. You appeared to fear no one – neither government departments, nor our richest citizens. The Commission that followed was weak. And those who could like you draw the inter-party webs (such as Brian Easton and Bruce Jesson), knew precisely how deeply the money men had taken over our country in the late 1980s from the true nationbuilders who had grown through the 1930s, to the 1970s.
Winston I loved you because you smashed the white barrier of the whitest in the Tauranga electorate, being elected in a general seat as very few Maori had before. Even in 2020, there are very, very few who can do that in the Labour Party. That Tauranga victory rebuilt our national confidence that biculturalism really was possible, so soon after the joyous patriotism of our 1990 sesquicentennial.
You really were a symbol of something about us all.
Winston I love you because you raged against the sale of our long term wealth, and you were prepared to politically die for it. Has any other politician in our history done this as much or with as much cost? When National agreed to the sale of Wellington Airport, you said this was why you were quitting, and you did so. And now, nearly four decades later, cities who sold off their airport shares like Auckland and Wellington are bereft of funding, unable to support even the barest of essential services, precisely because corporatisation and privatisation of our assets stripped them of their income. You raged against the sale of Silver Fern Farms when few others would. You raged against the sale of the national electricity generators. You raged against what Brian Easton called The Commercialisation of New Zealand. You were a shining knight against the forces who weakened the power of the state to have the income to keep us all going. If you had won more of your battles, New Zealand would be strong like Australia is now, not a weak state with low ambition, low savings, and a hollowed out business sector craven to foreign capital.
Winston few loved you like I did. You were stabbed deeply and often by National. No other politician would have survived what they did to you. For daring to side with Labour in 2017, someone at a very high level in National leaked your superannuation details. Because you were unable to prove your case in court, you were clearly in the right to all but the law and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars. Every other single other politician in parliament this century would have been laid waste and fired and bankrupted from that. But you dared continue. For daring to hold those treacherous villains to account, and losing, and continuing bloodied but unbowed, I loved you still.
Winston, I love you for smoking cigars, drinking whiskey, and having good taste in tailored six-button suits. Damn them all.
Winston I loved you for being the walking counterfactual history of a dignified and strong nation who could take care of itself. If you had been born 2,000 years ago you would be Belisarius. You’d be at the Rhine against the hordes, whether the Rhine froze or not.
Winston I love you still. You love this country, you love its people. That’s enough for me.