a guest post by Milkenmild:
Party Hopper is the autobiography of Peter McCardle, MP for Heretaunga from 1990 to 1996 and a NZ First list MP from 1996 to 1999. His was a relatively brief, but turbulent parliamentary career. He alienated himself early from his National Party colleagues by voting against the 1991 benefits cuts. Re-winning his Heretaunga seat in 1993, despite the swing against National, did not help his prospects. He was enthusiastic about joining Mike Moore’s proposed centrist party, before finishing the parliamentary term as an independent and joining NZ First. He played a significant part in the infamously dragged out coalition negotiations in 1996, and was appointed Minister of Employment – the role he most coveted. When Jenny Shipley broke up the coalition in 1998, McCardle left NZ First to remain a minister, but retired from parliament at the 1999 election. Almost immediately, he began a second political career, first as an adviser to the Act parliamentary team until 2005, and then with National Party health spokesmen and ministers until 2017.
A party hopper indeed. Having an inside seat at many of the most dramatic political ructions of the past thirty years, McCardle has many interesting details to share. But that is not the heart of the book, which is dominated by three themes – family, faith and employment policy. The first two themes provide the foundation for McCardle’s political motivation.
Working as an employment centre manager, he developed firm convictions that there needed to be a combined approach to welfare and employment, and a focus on the long-term unemployed. His ideas did not fit with departmental approaches. He tried his luck as a parliamentary candidate, and was a surprise winner in Heretaunga. His mission, almost zealotry, was to implement his employment ideas, and he pursued this irrespective of any conventional party loyalties
His ambitions were fulfilled with the creation of Winz in 1998, from a merger of the Employment service and the Department of Social Welfare, and McCardle busied himself with the creation of his cherished ‘one-stop shop’ and work-for-the-dole schemes. After parliament, he found himself in demand as a parliamentary researcher and loyal aide to Act and National Party MPs.
The book is a good combination of personal life and behind-the-scenes political machinations. Those looking for much criticism or dirt will not find it here – McCardle comes across as too nice a guy to make enemies or seek revenge on any enemies in print. His Cathollic faith is the bedrock of his life, giving him comfort through life’s vicissitudes and an acceptance that things are meant to be – all part of God’s plan.
I found the best parts of the book to be the descriptions of his electorate campaigning and the endless negotiations that are political life. I could have wished for more about his experiences as a city councillor and DHB member, as illuminated by his time in politics at the national level.