I’ve personally known 5 Labour Party leaders. Lange, Clark, Goff, Shearer and Cunliffe. Lange wrote columns for the University Magazine I edited, I met Clark dozens of times, I went around to Goff’s house for a BBQ, I used to catch up with Shearer for coffees now and then and I’ve hung out with Cunliffe.
Each have left their imprint.
Lange was brilliant but so defensive and brittle. His penetrating wit and larger than life personality hide deep wounds that never healed.
Clark was terrifying, intelligent and frightening all at once. You simply knew in her presence that she was destined for greatness and would either become the first women to run the the UN or lead a global drug cartel.
Goff was principled, affable and decent, but his loyalty to the free market was always a cursed flaw. After watching the Labour Party rip itself to pieces ideologically his desire to let sleeping dogs lie was a weakness, not a strength.
Shearer was always pleasant but seemed slightly puzzled how he’d become leader. We all were.
Cunliffe was the dutiful son. Full of vision and focused on doing the best for everyone meant he ruled without menace and his enemies took that as a weakness.
But I haven’t ever really spent a hell of a lot of time with Little. I only knew him through those who had worked with him in the Union movement, and it almost seemed that at one stage or another, the entire Union movement had worked for Little.
The thing that has always surprised me most about Little is that he’s universally respected on the Left. For a movement that detests other factions in the spectrum with as much disdain as they do for the Right, it’s a rare feat indeed to have nothing bad said behind your back.
That’s a strength of Little’s. From what I’ve observed, Little has the sureness of his beliefs, not through wide eyed doctrine but through the hands on experience of life.
Little is very, very, very cautious, but he is cautious without fear. That’s a huge difference.
I think his vision is to rebuild the civil society.
One of the features of neoliberalism is to strip out the democratic shock absorbers of civil society so that when the hard right policy hits, it cleanses those too weak to resist it. It’s civil society that speaks out about social issues from an educated perspective and from a hands on authenticity and its suppression and removal from society degrades the value of the individual, it doesn’t protect it.
No where can we see the ruthlessness of a hollowed out civil society better than in our current housing crisis. John Key says the Homeless can just pop into WINZ and get a house. The disconnect between the Prime Minister’s version of events and the families-living-in-cars reality of his polices may as well be light years apart.
Watching 1000’s of beneficiaries line up for help from AAAP shows how dysfunctional and unresponsive our state agencies have become.
Where we need to be moving is towards democratic autonomy. Publicly funded NGOs that guide users through the purposely complex social services, accessing their full benefits, entitlements and rights. These NGOs would know the rules inside out, would know the entitlements and could make public reports on the Ministries they work with.
Rather than empower private contractors, empower the individuals by fully funding their advocates.
We need a fully funded civil society that can critique without fear of retribution (like the Problem Gambling Foundation), so that these shock absorbers become amplifiers of people’s rights, so that the disaffected see value in participation.
That’s the kind of leader and vision I think Little has and is. He’s a quiet revolutionary, a pragmatic socialist. I think he could be the most underestimated Leader of Labour ever.