I spent the week getting out of bed at some ungodly hours at the behest of various media outlets and thereby rediscovering the joys of uncongested Auckland motorways and the strange fact that any early start means that you can get about six hours of work done between 7am and 9am.

For reasons I don't exactly understand, I become the go-to source of information for some sections of the media whenever there is an internal problem with the Labour Party.

Perhaps it's because I always try to oblige because I find keeping up at least something of a media profile greatly assists with my fundraising activities for the New Zealand Howard League.

Quite simply, if the potential donor knows who you are you have a far better chance of getting in the door and a greatly improved opportunity of success when you ask for money.


The issue this week was, of course, the belated revelation of some shenanigans that occurred at a Young Labour Summer Camp that took place in February somewhere near Waihi.

This time I was somewhat more of an appropriate media selection to comment on these matters. Such gatherings as the Young Labour summer schools were launched on my watch as Labour Party president 16 or 17 years ago.

Mike Smith, the general secretary at the time, and I decided that for the future of a party then approaching its 100th anniversary we needed to foster our young people with a firm eye on the next 100 years.

The purpose of these gatherings was predominantly educational.

We wanted the Labour Party's philosophy, history, policies and organisational strategies communicated to the next generation of party activists.

It was well known that then Prime Minister Helen Clark came up via the Young Labour movement and the ruling New Zealand Council readily agreed to facilitate these summer camps and to budget a sum we called the Evan Haine Memorial Grant (after a generous supporter whose house came to the party as a bequest) to fund international travel for Young Labour members.

Both of those initiatives struck a chord, flourished and they survive to this day.

Our stated objective at the time was to produce another Helen Clark, and there's a strong argument that we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was also a member of Young Labour and rose to become president of the international organisation called the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) in 2008.

As I remember them, these summer school gatherings in the early days were quite serious-minded and pretty tame affairs and, of course, there was no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to record and propagate whatever sinfulness, if any, took place.

It's a pity that what I'm reliably told were isolated incidents forced the Labour Party council to suspend Young Labour activities until what exactly happened is fully known and protocols are established to make sure nothing similar occurs.

Political party youth sectors have real and proven value so it's to be hoped that outstanding issues can be resolved quickly.

In my view there are two major conclusions to be drawn from the revelations. First is that political parties must nurture their young people with great care and diligence if they are to have any future.

It's worth noting that both Prime Minister Ardern and National Party Leader Simon Bridges made their start in politics via the youth wings of their respective parties.

Right now all parties will be closely examining their youth sections if they have them.

Excessive behaviour has been common to many organisations. As National Party activist and pollster David Farrar tweeted this week, the goings on at Young Labour's summer camp "Brings backs memories of some great Young Nats parties".

The second unavoidable conclusion is that drunken escapades which would have been ignored or swept under the carpet as little as a few years ago, even if they were always technically offences, have now become socially unacceptable.

An old friend who has worked in a couple of major law firms over many years tells me that late-night "boozy boardroom antics" were common until the revelations concerning one of New Zealand's most prestigious legal practices in recent months stopped them.

Perhaps this attitudinal change is just in time, now that virtually every cellphone can function as a television camera, combining with the ability to place whatever it records online for anyone to discover.

With a large proportion of young people becoming social media "addicts" any event worth recording will be recorded and will have the potential to be spread widely.

If there is a big lesson here it's just how rapidly and dramatically attitudes can change. This time it's a change for the better.

• Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.