Through thick and thin

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    It was Leonardo da Vinci who said that ‘our life is made by the death of others’ and the legacy of former Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton – like his hard-working political life – was founded and will be remembered on this heroic scale. 

    The long-serving politician who died earlier this week will be brought to Waiheke to be buried here at the weekend*, after a Requiem Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Christchurch today, Thursday at 2pm.

    His passing has brought acknowledgement, insight and belated credit to the 16-hours a day politician who held a lonely and grim line for Labour’s core policies and values during the years that began with Rogernomics and saw Labour’s most basic values violated and the country plunged into a neoliberal programme from which it may only now finally escape.

    His opposition to Rogernomics and the sale of BNZ saw him suspended from the Labour caucus, then leave the party and set up New Labour in 1989 and the Alliance in 1991.

    Even when it had become madly unfashionable in politics to care for people, he made steady, hard-fought gains despite an atmosphere of dense hostility towards his championing of basic Labour values.

    When he was suspended from the Labour caucus over the extraordinary privatisation of the BNZ, a Tom Scott cartoon of the day showed him being ordered out of an inner parliamentary circle into a surrounding throng of the ordinary New Zealanders, especially the marginalised.

    Privatisation of Telecom was looming. The GST debate had been lost by the left. Prescription charges were introduced. Tariffs went, unilaterally. Post offices and hospitals were closed. The first university fees would be introduced soon after.

    Colleague Leila Harré said this week that despite such forces, Jim Anderton gave himself entirely to “the expression of Labour’s traditional language, foundation principles, and most successful means of achieving our aims – together.
    “I am glad he lived to see a new generation of Labour movement leaders take the helm, with a progressive and compassionate prime minister who reflects the values he held so close,” she said. 

    In an interview earlier this year, Anderton recalled the process as he belted and braced plans for Kiwibank, the ‘people’s bank’, against the scepticism of Helen Clarke and Michael Cullen. 

    He didn’t make it a condition of the Alliance’s coalition with Labour – foreseeing it would be too grudging – but worked with “a lot of very young bankers” to prepare a business case for the bank, which he took to Cabinet. He still faced stiff opposition.
    “There was this final meeting where the idea was they were evidently all going to come for me, evidently to put me to the sword basically, with everyone coming at me with questions,” he said.
    “But I had a business case by that time and so I just nailed every argument.

    “Annette King (then Minister of Health) to her eternal credit said: ‘Look, we’ve gone through all this, Jim’s answered every bloody question, he’s got all the answers, none of us were able to knock anything over, he’s put up a brilliant business case for this, even though we may not agree with it, you have to admit they deserve a chance so for God’s sake Michael, give him the bloody bank!’” Anderton said.
    “And Cullen suddenly said: ‘Oh alright.’”

    Anderton was also a co-author of the Kiwisaver super fund, championed MMP and paid parental leave and brought the then Ministry of Economic Development, the regional development arm and the sector strategies for the New Zealand economy into existence.

    Most recently, he stoutly fought for the rebuilding of Christchurch’s cathedral, living to see the recent decision that it was to be saved. 

    Truly, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, he was for decades a “towering figure” in the Labour movement who would be remembered as someone who stood up for his principles.

    In his own valedictory speech, Anderton reflected on his often-turbulent political career. “It really is worth sticking up for what you believe”. He also said that, under the same circumstances, he would do exactly the same again. 

    New Zealand had never fully recovered from the upheaval of Rogernomics, he said. Neither to its economy nor in social terms of mental health, a massive rise in suicides and a “kind of disillusionment with the government as being on your side.”

    Trust would have to be rebuilt, he said.  And he stood for that for all his days.         

    Liz Waters

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