In 1987, as a fresh-faced 24-year-old with deep-seated delusions of dauntlessness, I took on the safest National seat in the country for Labour.

I was driving trains in Palmerston North and, despite not living in the electorate, Waitotara was my "home" patch. So enamoured was I with Labour's nuclear-free policy, and David Lange's formidable eloquence, I simply had to be involved.

They were different times, folks. Had I known what havoc Rogernomics and naked neoliberalism were to ultimately inflict on the country, I'd never have partaken. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Rachel Stewart standing for Labour in the Waitotara Ward in the 1987 Election. Photo / Supplied
Rachel Stewart standing for Labour in the Waitotara Ward in the 1987 Election. Photo / Supplied

Nevertheless, this was prior to Lange's famous break for a "cup of tea", and the buoyancy and momentum for Labour's re-election chances was palpable.


I was a member of a very strong union - the Locomotive Engineers Association - and with their blessing and on full pay, I campaigned for six weeks in South Taranaki and rural Whanganui, knowing the whole time that incumbent Venn Young would be returning to Parliament once again.

Read more: Rachel Stewart: Hysteria over water policy pitiful

I remember attending a Labour conference in Wellington, and sitting in a workshop called "Standing in safe National seats". Maryan Street and Judith Tizard were also there. Both went on to lose in that election - just as I did, but they were ultimately rewarded a few years later. That's how it worked.

For me, once was enough, and any remaining desire I harboured for high political office was eventually quashed by career, cynicism and the clock. Also, I realised that I simply didn't possess the temperament for it. Irascibility and impatience are my strong suits.

But, boy, there was something about Lange. There was something about Clark too.
Nobody, or policy, has ever stirred me enough to vote Labour since.

Now, there's something about Ardern. A magic, an emotional intelligence, an intellect all distilled down into a sharp syringe loaded with adrenaline aimed straight to the dying heart of the Labour party. Boom! They're back.

I felt strongly that Ardern was the answer to their woes and called for her installation as leader more than a year ago. Better late than never and, as it turns out, the timing may well be impeccable. My only fear is that the runway might be slightly short but, given her piloting skills thus far, I reckon she will land this baby.

Along with half of the country, I'm energised about New Zealand politics again. In her campaign launch speech, she talked about the same things that no doubt Andrew Little would have - inequality, child poverty, education - but it was the way she said it, and the turn of phrase used. It was decidedly different and decidedly female.


When she talked about empathy, and love and hope rather than loss and grief, it felt like we haven't heard a politician use those words in years. Because we haven't. We've been out here wandering in the desert of economic theory versus basic human values, and I'm parched. You?

When people say leaders don't count, and only policy does, they are dreaming. For example, Labour's water policy hasn't basically changed over the last three elections. Yet, I never noticed or even bothered to look. Labour, and its endless parade of leaders who shave, bored me to the point of paralysis and, when you believe they have no chance to be the Government, why bother?

You see, with political power, I want to see my gender reflected back to me. More than that, I want my values reflected back to me too. Ardern managed to make me believe that climate change really does matter, and that people matter more than pingers - both being abject failures for National.

Of course, this is where the "economy over everything else" adherents get energised. Their tactics are already on display. They say she's all show and no go. Too inexperienced, untested, and naïve. I say, keep going. There's a whole heap of us out here needing to hear the stark contrast between the boys in blue versus the red of new blood.

Before you think I'm off my rocker, my point is I'm a political hack from way back. It takes a lot to get me to sit up and take notice. I'm so over neoliberalism, and whatever phase of destructive capitalism the world has now entered, I'm mostly rendered inert.

Yet, I know Ardern represents the best and only chance New Zealand has to pull back from the brink of total environmental and social destruction. Some would say we're already there. Either way, I think we're so excruciatingly close, we can feel the winds of change brushing our cheeks.

And if I can hear the call from Labour to return, then anyone can. For so long, I heard nothing. It's gone from silence to an ear-splitting howl.

This lone wolf is leaving the woods, and going home.