Confession time. I was a member of the Labour Party from 1987 until 1989. In '88 and '89 I was the Aorangi Regional Rep on the Labour Youth Council. Despite this (no, not because of it), I have never voted Labour in my life.
This peculiarity is all a matter of timing: I wasn't eligible to vote until 1990. This was no obstacle to my fresh-faced ideology, and it was a hell of an interesting time to be in politics. By the time I started voting, I was less enthusiastic about politics than I had been for years.
I was raised from the time I was six by a Values-voting 'weave your own yoghurt' lefty liberal hippy. (Thanks, Mum.) I was taken on Hiroshima Day marches and smelter and dam protests. We had those Muldoon cartoon calendars in the kitchen. By the time of the '84 election I was clued up, paying attention, and dead enthusiastic. We were finally going to get shot of the bastard.
Labour won. There was the Oxford Union Debate, the Buchanan incident, the Rainbow Warrior bombing. My country and I were becoming teenagers at the same time: lippy, defiant and dead impressed with our own importance.
What happened next was a bit confusing, I have to admit. We'd won, things were supposed to be good. Not quite so many people out of work, a bit more giving a shit about those at the sharp end. Still, someone was bringing some jam some time, best not to worry. I joined the Party through a friend just before the 87 election.
The next couple of years involved several trips to Wellington and a lot of 'mouth shut ears open' for me. I'll admit I got way more out of it than the Party got out of me. Cheers Labour Party, Air New Zealand's blueberries were choice. There was much sitting in student flats listening to Billy Bragg and talking about Nicaragua. This world where people actually cared about ideas seemed a hell of a lot better than what was going on in the rest of my life at the time.
The Council meetings themselves, though - the bickering, the being sent off with the other women to talk about wymyn's issues, the inability to actually effect anything – they were unfreshening my face. It wasn't all waving a bottle at Security and saying you were headed for Jonathan Hunt's birthday party. Talking to MPs and realising they were pushing a policy they actually knew was wrong because it was the best compromise they could get isn't something that goes down too well with teenagers. I'd spent my last two birthdays in a pub with a picture of Michael Joseph Savage over the door. The Labour Youth magazine was called The Red Flag. We weren't pissing about with compromise, surely.
Roll on April 1989, and the split between the parliamentary wing and the rest of the party cracked wide open. Jim Anderton walked. My ex-Hero David Lange said something nasty about a personal friend. We called an emergency meeting of the Council in Auckland, after which we split down the middle. I was in the half that resigned and drank all the wine. Most of them went on to join New Labour. Me, I was seventeen and exhausted with politics. I also shared the concerns of a close friend about some of Anderton's behaviour. One last (unsuccessful) go at sleeping with the secretary and I was done with party politics.
1990 was off to university, and a pol sci course that introduced me to a very strange concept. In other countries, they had different ways of electing governments. Some of these were proportional. I really liked the sound of this German system. It seemed, well, fair and democratic. A couple of years later and I was campaigning again. I'd like to take a moment to thank Peter Shirtcliffe: we couldn't have done it without him. That's one of the things I really like about the Kiwi psyche: any time someone spends obscene amounts of money telling us we're stupid, we really like to tell them to get stuffed. Even if we don't actually understand the issue.
I supported MMP like I never had the Labour Party. I drove people crazy never shutting up about it. At the 1993 election I was sitting in a car outside a polling booth with an ex-boyfriend having this conversation:
"And then, in 1981, it happened again. More people voted Labour than National, but National got more seats."
"Back in a minute."
I don't know whether he voted just to shut me up, or because he thought if he ate the cereal there might be a surprise free gift in the bottom of the packet, but he voted, and that was a first.
I have a certain sense of satisfaction about that campaigning now. Nineteen years after Jim and I both quit the Labour Party, I'm sitting here in his electorate. And even though I'd rather swallow a live rat than vote for him, I know I'll still have one vote that counts.
I think he'd be a bit grateful too.