Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway's shock departure from Parliament has put the spotlight back on Palmy and the Labour Party.

An astute political observer would understand that Lees-Galloway is one of many career politicians who are part of the modern Labour movement that has forgotten its blue-collar working-class roots.

The Palmerston North electorate hasn't had an authentic working-class Labour MP since Trevor de Cleene some 30 years ago.

De Cleene grew up in state housing in Palmerston North and worked several seasons at the freezing works in Feilding to support his law studies at university.


The freezing works in Feilding was a major employer of local Māori, including my father, grandfathers, uncles and aunties.

De Cleene worked alongside my koro/grandfather and would pop into the freezing works from time to time to check in with his old workmates, even after he became a lawyer and then MP.

After de Cleene retired in 1990, along came Steve Maharey who was a lecturer at Massey University and local city councillor.

Although working in the ivory tower is certainly not blue-collar work in the tradition of de Cleene and other old Labour stalwarts, at least Maharey brought some work experience to Parliament unlike his successor, Iain Lees-Galloway.

Iain Galloway – as he was known before marrying Clare Lees – was educated at one of New Zealand's most expensive private schools, Auckland's King's College.

Today's fees for NZ citizens and permanent residents sits at around $25,000 a year just for tuition or $40,000 a year for tuition and boarding.

Galloway then went onto study for a BA at Massey University and became president of the Massey University Students' Association in 2005.

Stop laughing – this is a serious column.


He paused his studies to work as a union organiser and publicity officer for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation for around three years before he was gifted the Palmerston North electorate on Maharey's retirement in 2008.

With years as an opposition MP and therefore not much to do, Lees-Galloway finally finished his BA degree much to Massey's delight in 2016.

Although it took him much longer than the standard three years to finish his BA, his degree combined with his one-year student president experience and three years in the nurses' union gave him all the skills one needs to be deputy leader of the House, Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, Minister of Immigration, and Minister for ACC in the Labour-led coalition Government.

See kids: you can do it too.

With Lees-Galloway's political career now over, an opportunity exists for the local Labour movement to return to its blue-collar working-class roots.

I just hope the new candidate doesn't turn into another holier-than-thou champagne socialist telling us to reduce our carbon emissions while simultaneously flying the mistress to Paris to rendezvous - Oh là là! Oh well, champagne anyone?


- Steve Elers is as an academic at a university in Palmerston North and writes a weekly column on social and cultural issues. His views are his own and do not represent the unnamed university. He can be contacted via his website: