Labour leader race: Who is your political hero?

by Toby Manhire / 06 September, 2013
We asked David Cunliffe, Shane Jones, and Grant Robertson: who is your political hero, and why?
Grant Robertson (left), Shane Jones (centre), and David Cunliffe at Forum North for the Labour Party leaders debate. Photo/David White.


My political hero is a local Westie. 78 year old Audrey White founded the Laingholm Roundabout. It’s a local community newspaper in the Laingholm Titirangi area that is produced by volunteers.

Audrey came out from England 38 years ago. She is from Bristol in England and has been married for 40 years. She has known me ever since I won the New Lynn seat.

The Roundabout is produced once a month. Locals gathered at the Laingholm Hall (before it caught fire) to “assemble and staple up each edition, consume the world’s best morning tea, and furiously engage in the local controversies”.

It has been a privilege to be part of the Roundabout which I take part in as often as I can. Audrey and her husband Vic have been an anchor of the Titirangi Laingholm community for decades.

Audrey just retired as the librarian at the local primary school, and Vic has been involved in the volunteer fire brigade and other community organisations.

To me, they are living proof of the difference good hardworking people can make to their local communities.

Audrey is my political hero. To me, she symbolises that community service, including through politics, must be done with people, not for them.

The role of leadership is to help everybody put their best contribution forward and let everybody’s talents shine.

Shane Jones (left), David Cunliffe (centre) and Grant Robertson share a joke at Forum North in Whangarei. Photo/David White.




There are a host of memorable leaders which I have studied and been moved by. John F Kennedy, US President, however, does it for me. His speeches were superlative replete with insights and sayings which still resonate.

The magnetism of the man and his appeal to his people at a tumult. "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!" A booming rally call which still has meaning for democracy.

I have felt for some time the cry to action for civic purposes is sorely needed in New Zealand. When I think of Kennedy I think of service. Since the late 1980s the ethic of service has often been eclipsed by corporatism. His messages summoned a new generation to nation building. He also encouraged his people to embrace their place in the wider world.

The magic of Camelot, the energy to go beyond horizons and his untimely death always touch me. The willingness of his family to give themselves up in the service of their country showed me they were committing to something bigger then themselves. For me this was his ultimate legacy.



Internationally I have been inspired by the lives and work of Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. Their courage, fortitude and vision has left its mark not just on their countries, but on the whole world.

But for a New Zealand political hero, I look to Norman Kirk. While I was too young to remember him, what I have heard and read is of a man who had the ability to inspire with his vision, his deep commitment to Labour values and his innate sense of who his people were and what they needed. He was a practical man, but with a strong vision for New Zealand and our independence.

From his own deprived childhood grew a sense of social justice and a belief in a better world. Kirk once said “New Zealanders don’t ask for much, they want someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work, and something to hope for.” A job, a home, a family and a future. A life that every New Zealander deserves, and at the heart of Kirk’s political philosophy.

I often think of what he would have done if he had lived longer, and what he might have saved or country from. In any event his legacy to Labour is of a leader who spoke to and fought for our values. That makes him my political hero.
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