Ruth Dyson, in my opinion up in the top rank of great Labour women, has announced she will leave Parliament at the end of this term. Typically in advance and typically without fanfare. Her contribution to Labour and to the less fortunate in our country has been huge.
I first met Ruth when she was Fran Wilde’s Executive Assistant in the midst of the Homosexual Law Reform campaign in 1986. It was a nasty sometimes brutish campaign, but Ruth’s courage was never in doubt.
In 1988 Ruth stood for Labour Party President after Rex Jones had served the year he promised Margaret Wilson. David Lange had repudiated Roger Douglas’ flat tax, and the Cabinet, caucus and party were badly split. Previous President Jim Anderton, by then an MP, was the other candidate.
The battle was bitterly fought, and there too Ruth demonstrated her steely resolve to put Party over personality. I was with the Engineers Union at the time, and we supported Ruth, almost alone among the party unions. Speaking for myself, it was my view that Jim Anderton’s election would have prompted a catastrophic split of the sort that the British and Australian Labour Parties suffered and which kept them out of office for decades. No Rogergnome, Ruth stood for dialogue, held the party together through difficult times,and led the later policy process changes.
As an aside, it is one of history’s delightful ironies that Jim Anderton later ended up as Deputy Prime Minister in coalition with Labour, representing as its single member the appropriately named solipsistic Jim Anderton Progressive party.
Ruth entered Parliament in 1993 winning the seat of Lyttelton, not one of the easiest. She actively supported Helen Clark’s accession to the leadership over Mike Moore, another occasion that saw a less than admirable backlash from some.
When Labour entered government Ruth became Minister of Disability Issues and without a doubt she was the best minister this portfolio has ever had. The disabled community miss her.
When Labour went into opposition in 2008, successive leaders relegated her to the back bench, in my opinion a mistake. This has showed up in the present government, which started out very short of ministerial experience. Typically however, Ruth’s experience is proving invaluable as the Chief Whip.
Also it is as a local MP for Port Hills that Ruth’s persistence, determination and thoughtfulness have shone in the aftermath of the earthquakes. So many people have benefited from her support that she could remain the MP for Port Hills as long as she draws breath.
She’s chosen to go, she goes with our thanks, and we look forward to her next contribution. It will be significant.