Herald on Goff Part 2

The Herald do the second part of their profile of Phil Goff, this time focusing more on his political life:

Although he had the backing of Moore and Michael Bassett, Goff’s former electorate chair John Lindley, now an Act supporter, recalled Helen Clark and then Labour president Jim Anderton were both on the panel and supported a different candidate in the field which included Ken Hastings, Norman Kingsbury, George Hawkins and Wayne Mapp, now a National MP.

Interesting that Clark was against Goff, even back then.

Goff, then 28, hadn’t expected to get selected. This was partly because he was fresh out of Labour Youth, during which time he had made several speeches considered “radical” by the hierarchy including on legalisation of marijuana and calls for a capital gains tax. At one of the Party’s conferences he had also called on half of caucus to resign because they’d been there too long.

Lindley recalls the incident.

“Goff said ‘There’s too many old people in the party’. Bob Tizard stood up and said ‘Name one’ and Goff said ‘You, Bob’.”

Here’s an irony. Bob Tizard was 56 or 57 when the young told him he was too old and should leave.Phil Goff today is 58 years old. Is there someone as brave today as Goff was himself 30 years ago?

Things were more difficult in Goff’s employment portfolio. Unemployment soared as Think Big projects were dismantled, wage freezes lifted and state assets sold off. The newest chair of Labour Youth was one Charles Chauvel, now an MP, who stood at conference and told Goff to take some action or resign.

Now that’s ironic.

Goff emerged from opening the Hunter Building at Victoria University in March 1989 to find students lying on the ground all around his car. He walked back to Parliament, trailed the whole way by students chanting “Phil Goff F*** Off” – led by the then Victoria University Students’ Association president Andrew Little.

And that is downright funny.

But to be fair to Andrew, I once helped lead a march in Dunedin where we may have had a similar chant. In fact I recall some parental displeasure at being captured on TV saying the chant through a megaphone 🙂

Those days have repeatedly come back to haunt Goff – state asset sales, high unemployment, no exemptions to GST, student loans – the National Party has reams of quotes by Goff about each, all of which are polar opposites to Labour’s stance now.

Questioning about the apparent contradiction is the one point during two lengthy interviews spanning four hours when Goff becomes terse, saying he does not want to get “bogged down in the 80s”.

“I got things wrong, but life is a learning process.”

Goff uses the same reasoning he used when he first entered Parliament to explain why his views were no longer those he held in Youth Labour – that by and large his approach, rather than his belief in social justice had changed.

He is not ashamed of those years, but now believes the two things they got wrong were the state asset sales and the flat tax proposal, which Lange unilaterally pulled the pin on, prompting his fall from the leadership.

Others from that era find it harder to reconcile the two Goffs.

Michael Bassett said Goff was one of the staunchest in arguing against exemptions on GST and a “devoted Rogernome”.

“The irony was that since 1990 when the party got taken over by a bunch of people who believed otherwise, Phil had to do a double flip. That, in my view, has been the source of his biggest problem.

All politicians to some degree modify their beliefs over time, and will sometimes go for pragmatism over belief. But for most politicians I still have a pretty good idea of what they really think. You know deep down Maurice Williamson would love to sell every state asset with a pulse, just as you know deep down Sue Moroney would be happy if we did nationalise the means of production etc.

But Phil Goff is one of the very few MPs where I have to say I really have no idea of what he truly believes in. It is not so much that his views have changed, or not even that they have changed so radically, but that they have swung deeply to the left, then deeply to the right, and then to the centre and now again deeply to the left.

Roskill was a Bible belt electorate and Goff’s support for homosexual law reforms in 1989 had not gone down well. Another factor was his decision to move out to Clevedon – he put in an offer on the property just before the election and was sprung by his opponent, National candidate Gilbert Myles, who was a friend of the real estate agent.

“[National] went round changing his hoardings by crossing out the G in Goff and adding ‘to Clevedon’ so it read ‘Phil off to Clevedon’,” Lindley recalls.

Heh I like it.

It was at this time of uncertainty for Goff that the Act Party went to him, asking him to leave Labour and become their new leader, taking over from Douglas.

Douglas said Goff was “highly intelligent, an extremely hard worker”. He said Goff discussed the proposal with them, but rejected it.

This reflects again my uncertainty about what Goff believes in. To even entertain taking the leadership of ACT in the mid 1990s , and reconcile that with the Phil Goff we have today is almost impossible.

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