I was born into the Labour Party. Not some sort of literal love child between Norman Kirk and Helen Clark, but pretty close. On my mother’s side, my nana was orphaned by the Napier Earthquake, and the election of 1935 which brought the First Labour Government to power gave her hope. My grandfather grew up reasonably wealthy, until the Great Depression ruined his family financially. The First Labour Government gave him a job on the New Zealand Railways, a career and hope for a better life. My father’s parents emigrated from Scotland in 1955. Scots are renowned for being strong supporters of the Labour Party.
As for my folks, they are strong Labour supporters, despite the betrayals of Rogernomics. My mother is a civil servant, my father is a caretaker. Through hard work and clever saving, they have nearly paid off their mortgage. I never felt deprived, but I knew we were not the most well-off family in our street. We were working-class, but aspirational. Like most teenagers, I took my politics initially from my elders. Too young to vote, I spent most of 2005 trying to convince my older classmates not to vote National, because I thought Don Brash was a racist. When I did leave school at the end of Year 13, I chose to go out to work rather than go to university. I didn’t think a degree had much value. Now, nearly at the end of my first one, I can confirm that.
I went out to work full-time, eventually ending up working for a government department. Over about three years, I saw things that could put most people off the virtues of big government. Public servants ignoring the people they were supposed to be helping. People so dependent on the help of the state, they didn’t know any other way to make a living. I was observing with my own eyes that when the government tried to help people, it usually made things worse. It was a sobering confrontation between my bright-eyed left-wing enthusiasm and what government does, or does not, achieve. I was confronting the fact that the ideology I subscribed to did not work in reality. It was at this point that my internal pendulum swung from hard left, to centre left, to just plain centre. I was barely Labour anymore. I was still in denial, believing that as someone who was socially left, but economically nudging right, I could remain a Labour Party supporter.
I finally decided to go to university at Victoria, if for no other reason than to escape my job working for the government. One of the very first things I did was get involved in Young Labour. I went to Young Labour meetings and listened to ideas that I knew would never work in application. Most of them have been tried previously in New Zealand history—an artificially high $18 minimum wage, price controls, intervention in markets, government control of industry, are some examples. I was given a form to join the Labour Party. I pinned it to my wall and stared at it. I could not bring myself to do it. The Labour Party which I was raised to believe had the best interests of all people at its heart, on closer inspection was to me a collection of sectional interests. Labour had become a party made up of narrow sectors of various one-issue activists and trade unionists. It broke my heart. In short, I was losing my religion.
I recall meeting Jordan shortly after he left Young Labour. I asked him why did he leave, and he said it was because they don’t like economic rationalists!
In 2010, I drifted away from the Labour Party, who were on a weekly basis putting forward policies I thought were ridiculous and unworkable. Taking GST off fresh food, which would only provide work for tax accountants. Extending tax credits, which are explicitly for people who do work, to those that don’t work. Working-class people who slogged their guts out, day in day out, would not want more of their taxes going to those who did not work. Nationalising the productive parts of the economy. Discouraged by what the Labour Party had become, I did the unthinkable. I joined the National Party.
A few Young Nats have started off in Young Labour, believe it or not! Not aware of any who have gone the other way recently!
If you asked your average Young Nat why you should join the National Party, the answers are fairly predictable. Go to social events where you might meet the PM. Begin your long slow climb into the corridors of power. Well, I can’t dance, and I swear too much to be a Member of Parliament. To me, it really comes down to freedom. Only in the National Party can you be a supporter of both freedom to marry who you choose (marriage equality) and freedom to associate in a union (voluntary student membership). The National Party supports economic freedom totally, and a considerable amount of members, like myself, support social freedoms. The Labour Party only supports social freedoms, and not economic freedom.