One great thing about New Zealand is it is so small that our rellies are never too far removed.
Sometimes it can be surprising, such as when we found out my mother was named after King Te Rata Mahuta – she was Patricia Mary Te Rata Mahuta Kerr – because of close family connections. There was some kind of family secret that I never really discovered. But I do know there are Tainui bones in our family.
I remember the korowai under the house at my grandmother’s even although the obvious Irishness on her side dominated. I come from a family of Irish rebels and my Grandma was always staunch on this. She hated the English.
My paternal grandfather was a Northumberland miner, who came to New Zealand, joined the Labour Party and became an MP in the Peter Fraser government of the war years.
While I celebrate this ancestry today, when I was growing up there was a sense that we weren’t quite good enough. My mother, when we were growing up in a state house used to tell us that we were lower “middle class”.
My Dad was a socialist post-war, but ended up in a respectable accounting job for the Public Trust. My Mum was a school secretary and mother of four.
Today, my cousins are all around me. Tau Henare is one of them, on our Irish side. I’m bound to have relatives in the Mahuta family, and my partner’s Fenton relatives are everywhere.
Whether recently, or long ago, our families made the journey to Aotearoa seeking a better life. Politics has played no small part in the changes they would have witnessed.
I suspect today’s debates about poverty, the haves and the have-nots would resonate with them. There is still massive power and wealth in the hands of a few. There is arrogance from the better off and an attitude of blame that says that those we used to give a helping hand to through the welfare state have “made poor choices”. There’s a narrative that workers should be grateful for a job provided by beneficent employers, and take whatever they are handed out.
Yes, I know there’s no comparison to when my various ancestors made the journey here.
It’s good that my relatives can have different views – on the right or the left, even though we will often disagree. I don’t know about them, but the stories and struggles of my forebears have shaped my political opinions, and like them, my life experiences have confirmed them.
That’s why I’m Labour.