Victory! Naomi and David Lange (and an extraordinarily youthful Fran O'Sullivan!) arrive at the Mangere Election Night headquarters to celebrate the election of the Fourth Labour Government on Bastille Day 1984.
It was supposed to be a book about the birth of the NewLabour Party, but somewhere along the way it became the story of what led me into, and out of, the old Labour Party. In hopes of providing future political studies students with a glimpse of what it was like to be a left-wing Labour activist in the days of David Lange and Roger Douglas, I am publishing The Journey on Bowalley Road as a series of occasional postings. L.P. Hartley wrote: “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.” May these memoirs, written in 1989, serve, however poorly, as my personal passport.
Saturday, 14 July 1984
THE QUEEN’S ROOM of the Dunedin YWCA is buzzing. From all over the Dunedin North electorate Election Day workers are arriving to await the results of the Snap Election. Stan and Anne Rodger moved amiably from one knot of excited party supporters to the next, greeting everyone by their first names and reassuring them that: “Yes, this time I think we’ve got them.”
As the first results began to trickle through there’s the usual furrowing of brows. Country booths mainly, with few votes to count, and almost always favouring the National Party, are traditionally the first results to be posted. It never makes for a promising start to Labour Party gatherings on Election Night.
By 8:30pm it’s beginning to look unstoppable. I think back over the past four weeks. ‘Herculean’ barely describes the enormous effort the party has put into the struggle for power. As Stan’s publicity officer, I have been at it non-stop: thousands of pamphlets, flyers, bumper-stickers, newspaper advertisements – all the standard paraphernalia of electioneering – have had to be designed, approved, printed and distributed, and all in under 14 days.
But, we have done it. All of us. The Labour Party has never been stronger or larger. Nearly 100,000 New Zealanders have acquired those little yellow membership cards. Anti-Apartheid veterans of the ’81 Tour; peace activists from the myriad groups and organisations that comprise the most successful anti-nuclear movement in the world; trade unionists in their thousands, desperate to put an end to the two-year wage freeze that has seen the value of their real wages plummet; the unemployed, organised to a degree not seen since the 1930s; feminists, hoping fervently for a genuine political response to the needs of their sisters; Maori, emerging into the light after a century-and-a-half of repression and assimilation: a gorgeous, shimmering, rainbow-coalition of the angry, the alienated, the outraged and the dispossessed people of Aotearoa. We have done it.
Muldoon concedes defeat, and I break into a grin. It seems a very long time since that November night in 1975, but we are back. Labour is back! I shake Stan’s hand with genuine affection. The room is reverberating with noisy celebration.
Francesca and I drive out to the Fairfield Community Hall where Clive Matthewson – darling of the Dunedin Left – is celebrating with his supporters. As we come through the main entrance I am greeted by Brian. Former flatmates, we had both joined the party after that crucial television address by Rowling in 1978, and now we are laughing and whooping like a couple of sand-boys. I recognise Clive further down the hall. “Victory!”, I cry, and we hug each other. Brothers. “Victory!”
Eighteen hours later I’m standing with my father on a windswept Waverley balcony, overlooking Otago Harbour. The freezing air is bracing, Dunedin can be cold in July.
“The winds of change are blowing, Dad,” I laugh into the teeth of the gale. “The winds of change are blowing!”
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.