• Laila Harre is a Former Alliance MP
The first people Jim Anderton introduced the 1996 Alliance caucus to were the parliamentary messengers. For seven years after his self-exile from the old two-party system, they had been among the kindest of workmates. Anyway, he was always most relaxed among working-class people.
The years before had been lonely ones. Jim and his tiny group of fiercely hopeful parliamentary staff were evicted to the Museum St annexe (think Alcatraz). Sandra Lee joined them in 1993. With the late-night conference calls, endless journeys around the country, organising NewLabour and the Alliance, Jim set the standard for hard work and relentless campaigning.
In the corridors of power, he would whistle to clear a space around him in the atmosphere of dense hostility towards this champion of the most basic Labour values.
He'd been suspended from the Labour caucus for abstaining on the BNZ sale. Privatisation of Telecom was looming. The GST debate had been lost by the left. Prescription charges were introduced despite a manifesto commitment not to. Tariffs went, unilaterally. Post offices and hospitals were closed. Soon after we broke away the first university fees would be introduced.
Eventually, of course, the neo-liberal programme began to fail under the weight of its own contradictions. Assets were bought back (Air NZ, NZ Rail), and built (Kiwibank); privatised services eschewed in favour of publicly owned and managed ones (hospitals, ACC, tertiary education), and now university fees are being progressively reduced.
It's impossible to credit a single person or movement with these changes. But Jim Anderton gave himself entirely to the expression of Labour's traditional language, foundation principles, and most successful means of achieving our aims - together.
I am glad he lived to see a new generation of labour movement leaders take the helm, with a progressive and compassionate Prime Minister who reflects the values he held so close.
Today I sit under the jacaranda tree Jim's wife's Carole urged us to plant 24 years ago. It casts a cool shadow. Rest in peace, JPA.