Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Not quite a year of it

2011 Calendar cover:  a llama in the High Country
"Well on November 26th we will know whether we know or we don't know" I'd said to everyone who kept asking whether or not my partner* would become an MP on the weekend.   As it turned out what we now know is that he's not an MP and he's unlikely to be one before 2014, given Labour's result on the party vote.

It's been an odd year for my family, politically.   To start with I was still in an electoral hangover from being unexpectedly elected to the Puketapapa Local Board in late 2010; an amazing experience which I now feel I am starting to understand better and enjoy thoroughly.  Balancing this significant commitment of time and mental energy with everything else has been a challenge, and sometimes I've had to go back to just operating on Essentials Only mode.  Whenever I feel bogged down I find contact with constituents truly rejuvenating, even when we are disagreeing about something.  People really appreciate getting a response, making an effort to find something out or give them the right contact person; it's an amazing testament actually to how low expectations of politicians are, which is something I hope to play a part in changing.

In late January I became a candidate's wife (again) several months before I'd thought I might, due to the Botany by-election.  That was an eye-opener.  I have seen my partner work very hard, but that campaign was another level again from previous campaigns, even the ones where we had both been candidates.  Not only did we have two kids under 4, one of whom was still breast-feeding, we also had not a lot of spare cash and suddenly one of the adults was away from 6am to 11pm, and then doing a couple of hours of campaign admin when he did get home too.  The phones would ring at most hours (midnight to 5am appears to still be sacrocanct), I was constantly washing (but not ironing) white shirts for him and red clothes for me, and then the dishwasher broke.  The Botany result was a predictable loss for the Labour candidate, but a gratifying one in that the margin wasn't embarassing and both the candidate and the party organisation around him did well. 

Two weeks later I went back to regular paid employment, after taking maternity leave since the previous August.  I moved back into a different role at the same union - less responsibility, less pay, shorter hours and a whole new sector to learn about.  That too has been incredibly challenging.  New acronyms and lingo, new people to meet, new structures to understand, and a sense of disconcerting disconnection from my previous work area which I had cared passionately about.  I care about the new stuff too, and am now slowly building my understanding of the issues and people, nurturing my passion for this part of the education sector too.  Most people have assumed I am part time because of my childcare responsibilities, so I have to explain regularly that actually I have two paid part time jobs and share the childcare with my partner.  It's a bit tedious.

Another fortnight or so on in time and the Labour list was announced.  We were on edge, waiting for the phone to ring, wondering who would call and whether it would be good news or bad.  We'd estimated a top 40 ranking would be sufficient to be within consideration (how wrong we were!) but when the call came and it was 32 we were both a bit stunned.  That seemed certain, something we could plan around.  We didn't really start planning, other than to not make any Big Plans beyond November.  Who knew what could happen after all.

Fast forward slightly to June.  Kept living the hectic life of 2 kids, 2 jobs, plus everything else, and then Labour's slide in the polls began.  All plans on hold, even the Not Making Any Plans plan.  Money was tight, still paying back the credit card that helped us get through Botany.**  Board work peaked as we worked on multiple consultations with our community and the Governing Body simultaneously, along with a really enormous amount of reading.  This just went on and on and on. 

The rugby weirdly intervened a little.  Still frantic, still getting sick a lot, but now, for a few weeks, able to fall asleep in front of Maori TV, instead of spending the evening on a computer or the phone.  As the final got closer the behind the scenes work of a campaign started to increase.  Coreflutes and wood showed up on the lawn and boxes of leafelts were stacked in the hall.  Teleconferences began very early two mornings a week, lots of evening meetings, and then the dreaded point where you know you just have to stick it out to the end and it isn't going to get any better until then; in my life characterised by the Two Phones Phenomenon - having to answer my partner's cellphone because he's on another call on the other phone.  Once that starts you need to keep moving so fast your legs blur.   Oh, and the dishwasher, the new one that replaced the second-hand one that broke back during Botany, stopped working.  Hurrah!

November 26th became this beckon of hope for me - either way we would have some time;  the time that comes from the shift back to everyday background campaign mode, or the time that the money of an MP's salary can help you to buy.

By Saturday night I had a worst case scenario for us as a family.***  If Labour got enough party vote that my husband was last in, and thus first out, and New Zealand First was sitting on 4.999%.  We'd have a nervous two weeks sitting on the specials, wondering, wondering, wondering.  I have friends sitting in that limbo now, and I don't envy them one bit.  I thought it was far more likely that we wouldn't have an MP in the family on election night, but I couldn't help gnawing away at the worst option in a corner of my mind.

As it turned out what Saturday night delivered for us was certainty.  In an odd way it's the most stable result for me personally.  There's no need to remodel our lives again with any sense of urgency.  We can sit back and think things through, look at options, run figures, and consider it all in a longer time frame than days or weeks or months.  I don't have to worry about giving up blogging, which I was considering, or how hard it would be for the kids to have their father, their main caregiver, suddenly not around so much.****  I don't have to think about whether or not I want to continue my union work in some shape or form, or how to keep my own political identity.  Lots of arrangements simply don't have to be made, or re-made.  There are some things we can do now that we couldn't have if one of us had gone into Parliament this year or next.

But these losses are hard.  I tend to focus on the positives because that keeps me going.  I have been studiously avoiding cogitating on the policy implications of the election's outcome, and try not to think about the personal implications for many of my friends, who may lose their jobs either directly or indirectly.  The loss of strong women's advocates like Carol Beaumont and Carmel Sepuloni, not to mention Steve Chadwick and the possibility of Kate Sutton, I have to turn my mind away from or I cry which really is no use to me or them.  The fact that my partner, who will one day be an excellent MP, has to wait another three years seems unjust, but then politics so often is, and if there's one thing I've learnt in the last fifteen years it's that you don't win an argument just because your case is the best.  You have to organise and organise and organise again, and then you need luck and timing too. 

I'll write more on some observations on the election results in the next few days I hope. This is more of a personal reflection on what has been an astonishing year for our household.  There's plenty of stuff I've left out too, that has helped or hindered.  I would advise people not to start a major renovation project even if the builder says it'll be finished three months before E Day, for example.  Even today, three days after, there is still plenty of wash-up from the campaign and now there's the Labour leadership contest.  Local body politics keep on keeping on too, as we work on Auckland Council's Long Term Plan, along with some significant local issues, and, I must admit, playing some catch-up as a result of the divided attentions of recent times.

Hopefully this post doesn't read as the long whinge of a tired person.  Although I am tired. 

I enjoy this stuff.  It is hard, and draining, and sometimes I'd rather be doing something else than whatever political life calls for at that moment.  But that connection you get with people in politics is incredibly rewarding.  That ability to make change, or at least help people voice their wish for change, that's amazing.  Leaving people stronger than they were before they met you, that is just unbeatable, in my book. 

I feel very privileged to be in a position to do this work, both paid and unpaid, and also to have a family who understands that. 

*  For those not In The Know, that would be Michael Wood
**  Not hoardings and all that, but the itty bitty personal expenses that mount up, another post on this in the near future.
***  Note:  NOT for the left, or the Labour party, or NZ or anything like that.  I wanted a Labour-led Government with a strong Green presence for all of those, and possibly a decent result for Mana on the cross-benches.
****  Although a campaign is good practice for that.


Deborah said...

the itty bitty personal expenses that mount up

Takeaway meals. Clothes. Things to to keep the kids quiet. Drycleaning. Packaged food. Cleaners. Morning/afternoon teas for campaign workers. Food shopping without a plan. Grabbing breakfast from MacDonalds. Replacing the damned dishwasher because you really can't manage without. Taxi fares. Petrol. More petrol.

Ros Hiini said...

Julie, you are a woman to be reckoned with, a mother in a million and a partner extraordinaire. Warmest regards from Ros Hiini.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I hadn't realised how abstractly I was treating the election until I read this. Thank you for offering an insight into the personal side of political campaigning. And I hope you get (or now have) a foolproof dishwasher.

Sandra said...

Thank you Julie.

Giarne said...

You're an inspiration Julie!!!

Giarne said...

Just read what Sandra said and can I echo her beautiful summation :)

Julie said...

Thank you all so much for your lovely comments, and for those who have contacted me through other means in response to this post. I have been quite stunned by the response, and very touched. It's important to me that we make visible the invisible work of our lives, so often what has traditionally been seen as "women's work", which I often refer to as duck work (those feet frantically swimming beneath the surface unseen, while the duck appears to be gliding serenely along). Parts of society just take it for granted that these things will keep on keeping on, but actually someone has to do them, and it seems to me that it is usually women these tasks fall to.

In my household I have a partner who does share this work. I'm lucky in that apparently. I hope my sons grow up to see sharing the duck work as normal, not exceptional.