Back in 1993, when I was the Alliance candidate for Whanganui, I once had to drive over to Palmerston North airport and pick up our leader, Jim Anderton. During the drive home I learned that Jim had trained as a schoolteacher but had only taught for a couple years before becoming a social welfare officer.
Jim had spent time working in Whanganui in the 1960s, he told me, and had lived in the old Boys' College hostel in Purnell St, where he had been a house master.
We talked a little about what had got us involved with the Alliance. For me it had been an accident. At the last minute our Alliance candidate, Terry Heffernan, had defected and had joined another new party, New Zealand First.
I had been a foundation member of the Green Party of Aotearoa/NZ and had been involved in the discussions about bringing together five separate small parties to form the Alliance. To cut a long story short I found myself taking Terry's place as the Alliance candidate.
Jim had been the driving force behind the formation of the Alliance and he was a force to be reckoned with. Having been president of the Labour Party, Jim was no slouch when it came to organising. Jim told me his upbringing had shaped his sense of social justice. His real father had left the family home and his mother had remarried and Jim had been adopted, taking his new father's name. That experience and his strong Catholic faith had shaped him he said.
The Alliance was a coalition of five separate parties. The Greens, the Democrats (Social Credit), the Liberals (National defectors), Mana Motuhake (a progenitor of the Maori Party) and Jim's New Labour (Labour defectors) worked well together until the New Labour Party tried to force the Alliance into becoming a unitary party and the Greens left. After that it was all downhill.
In 1993 the Alliance focused on the campaign for MMP, which came to pass, changing the shape of New Zealand politics forever. Although 1993 was a first-past-the-post election, I remember getting 11 per cent in Whanganui and Sandra Lee (Auckland Central) joined Jim in Parliament. The Alliance was on a roll and in the following election got 13 MPs in Parliament — including three Greens.
It was an interesting time to be in politics.
I have never been a confident public speaker, and I remember closely observing good orators to try and learn some of their skills. Terry Heffernan was a confident speaker, although one was sometimes left doubting his sincerity.
Jim, on the other hand, came across as "real sincere". Jim was a silver-tongued orator who was impressive to watch as he bent an audience to his will. Apart from Tim Shadbolt in his youth, Jim was the best political orator I've heard speak.
According to the Greens in Parliament at the time, Jim could also be a bully when trying to get his way — sometimes offending the Greens with their equally firmly held ideology of consensus decision-making. "Jim loves the whole world but no one individual," a Green MP said to me at the time.
Jim had his personal tragedies. A daughter who committed suicide, followed by a son who was permanently disabled after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Not surprisingly, Jim became an advocate for mental health issues and suicide prevention.
It was Rogernomics and the sale of the Bank of New Zealand that caused Jim Anderton to leave the Labour Party, and it is Kiwibank that will be his legacy. By all accounts, Kiwibank has acted as competition to the big Australian banks, helping keep fees down. Although restructured since its initial ownership by NZ Post it is still New Zealand owned and its purchase of Gareth Morgan Investments makes it a major player in New Zealand banking.