Matt McCarten: Now for something similar …

2 Mar

By Matt McCarten

(Reprinted from the Herald On Sunday)

I’ve got a new day job.

Unfortunately it means I have to give up my Sunday morning conversations with you.

The political world was stunned on Wednesday when David Cunliffe announced me as his chief of staff.

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After the political establishment collectively got back off the floor, the inevitable political attacks started.

Normally a chief of staff appointment is not particularly newsworthy. Name one from any other party? But everyone knows I’m not being employed to do the leader’s filing and correspondence.

For the first 24 hours, my new boss and I front-footed the decision as we knew we must. Now that’s done, my job is to get out of the limelight and get to work in the backroom supporting Cunliffe.

This may surprise you but until three weeks ago I had never had a private conversation with Cunliffe.

I briefed him on a campaign to get more people out to vote. Our scheduled meeting turned into a long working lunch where we discussed a whole range of topics.

Given my biting criticisms of him in this column, we were surprised how well we got on. We recognised we had common goals and had complementary skill sets. I’m a happy organiser and campaigner.

One thing led to another and this week, my life has changed in a way none of us could have imagined.

My Christian friends believe God saved me from my cancer for this purpose.

Actually, it’s dedicated professionals in the public health system and my partner Amanda who deserve that credit, although I’m happy to join Jesus’ campaign for the meek to inherit the earth.

I’m bemused that the Prime Minister calls my appointment in a non-policy-making role a lurch to the left. Some in the unthinking media joined in about my public positions. When did it become so outrageous to call for the hourly minimum wage to be raised to $15, or argue that the breadwinners of a family deserve a living wage for a decent day’s work? When does affordable housing for all, a decent job and support for families to support children get a good start in life become so unreasonable?

It’s a bold call by Cunliffe to offer me the trust of a central place in his team. It’s an honour to accept.

But I concede we are in parallel universes. Key promotes a man for his Cabinet who doubts Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, or another who thinks incest is just dandy. There’s a lurch alright, into nuttiness.

On a personal front, the appointment does come at a cost. I will be based in Wellington while my partner lives in Auckland. I step down from my union that I was intending to continue as my life’s work.

But standing on the sidelines would be a dereliction of duty. It’s a bold call by Cunliffe to offer me the trust of a central place in his team. It’s an honour to accept.

Of course, it isn’t appropriate for me to write a column when I officially nail my colours to the fortunes of one political party. For the record, I have only been a member of two political parties – the Labour Party and the NLP/Alliance. But I’ve always supported democratic causes and initiatives where they align with the interests of ordinary people.

It really has been the greatest privilege to write to you each Sunday. I salute Jonathan Milne, the Herald on Sunday deputy editor, who took a risk hiring me. Thanks to various editors who didn’t fire me despite me skating close to the edge at times.

I know sometimes I was overly harsh in my personal criticisms. I regret that and apologise for those I have carelessly insulted. I’m not by nature callous.

To my political opponents, I am glad we live in a civil society where we can contest ideas. I hope I ruined your Sunday breakfast on occasions.

To the people who write and tell me they look forward to my column, I’m humbled.

Now I must go and walk my talk. I will miss you all.

(Matt McCarten is National Secretary of Unite Union. His weekly Herald on Sunday column is a commentary on social and political issues in New Zealand. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unite Union.)

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