Labour seems to have burned off one of its most effective campaigners after leader David Cunliffe confirmed former Alliance president Matt McCarten will be his new chief of staff.
Former deputy prime minister Jim Anderton yesterday said he would not help Labour at the general election, after managing the party’s campaign in the Christchurch East by-election last year and working on the 2011 general election campaign and for Megan Woods in Wigram.
Anderton and McCarten left Labour in 1989 in protest at the Rogernomics reforms and formed the NewLabour Party, which was later folded into the Alliance.
But the two fell out acrimoniously during a rift in the party in 2002 and Anderton quit to form the Progressive party.
But it seems the bitter feelings have not faded, despite both now joining forces with Labour.
Cunliffe yesterday said Anderton had returned ‘‘‘home’’ to Labour and would help campaign for the party.
McCarten dodged questions about whether he had reconciled with Anderton, but he too said he would be campaigning with him.
But Anderton denied that and said he would not be assisting Labour in any way.
‘‘I won’t be helping in this general election.’’
Asked if had made the decision before or after McCarten’s appointment, he said he had no other comment to make.
He had not talked publicly about McCarten in the last 12 years and he wasn’t going to change that now.
‘‘I might write a book one day and it would spoil it wouldn’t it?’’
Cunliffe took the unusual step of holding a press conference to announce McCarten’s appointment, to what is normally a back room role, after Fairfax Media revealed the plan yesterday.
McCarten said the two had not known each other before the past few weeks but there was an ‘‘extraordinary chemistry’’ between them. He was pleasantly surprised at the direction Mr Cunliffe was taking Labour. If Labour had been the party it was now he would never have quit in 1989.
Mr Cunliffe said his new chief of staff had a distinguished career of service to unions and progressive causes. ‘‘Matt is one of the country’s pre-eminent political strategists on the Left-hand side of politics,’’ he said.
He would work alongside David Talbot, who had been seconded from Labour pollster UMR Research to run the party’s election campaign.
McCarten said advocating for those at the bottom of the pile was his life’s work and Cunliffe had given those people hope.
‘‘We have a lot of similar beliefs and I just thought this man could be the prime minister and should be the prime minister, and anything I could do to help a Labour-led Government under MMP I will do,’’ he said.
His health now was good and he had ‘‘the all clear’’ from cancer after being given just a few months to live four years ago.
He said he now had ‘‘unfinished business’’ – the title of former Labour finance minister Roger Douglas’ blueprint for reform.
He had told the executive of the low wage workers’ Unite union, which he led, about his new role and they had backed his move.
Asked about his support for various parties over time, including the Maori Party and Mana, McCarten said he would put his loyalty to working class values and the labour movement up against anyone any time.
‘‘I fight for the rights of people,’’ he said.
Prime Minister John Key said the appointment showed Labour was ‘‘going careering off to the Left’’, and the unions were getting an even tighter grip on the Labour Party.
‘‘He is hard-Left,’’ Key said.
- Fairfax Media
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