He is, however, working very hard to spearhead a swing against National.
“I’m doing the double shift of university and Labour work – and yes it’s challenging and demanding but I’m enjoying it hugely,” he says.
Since taking over the role from Moira Coatsworth at the end of February Nigel has embarked on a demanding schedule of visiting LECs all around the country – and he’s greatly encouraged by what he’s hearing.
“There’s a really strong understanding that we have to win in 2017 – because New Zealand needs a government that works for all New Zealanders, not just the few. Our membership knows that we cannot afford to lose the next general election – and I see a great level of focus and commitment emerging.”
As a veteran of many political campaigns and strategies, Nigel is well placed to recognise when the winds of change are blowing in the right direction.
Born in Wales and raised all over the UK – his father was a peripatetic primary school principal– he came from a family steeped in Labour history.
“My grandfather on my mother’s side worked in the Co-operative movement and was in his day a militant Shop Workers Union representative. They lived in a place called Colne in Lancashire which was known as “Little Russia” due to the strength of the socialist movement. My mother’s family hosted the great English social reformers and early Labour Party members Beatrice and Sidney Webb when they visited the area.
“I joined the young Socialists when I was 16 and the Shop Workers Union because I had a part time job in a supermarket.
“What probably first radicalised me was when Rhodesia declared independence under Ian Smith, combined with Harold Wilson leading the Labour Party to victory in 1964, and then the Vietnam War.”
From then on many of Nigel’s life choices were determined by his commitment to the Party. He spent a year teaching at a mission in Northern Ghana – where the only books available to him were the Complete Works of Lenin and the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Then he went on to study at Liverpool University “because the headquarters of my bit of the Party was there.”
He was soon heavily involved in student politics and in campaigning against plant closures and, while doing a post-graduate degree in Latin American Studies, he became involved in the 1973 Chile Solidarity Campaign.
Escaping Mrs Thatcher
After gaining his PhD, and spending two years in Peru, he worked as a social worker in Manchester before taking a job at the University of Strathclyde where he stayed for ten years – becoming active in the Scottish trade union movement. During the 1980s he also worked with black South African unions, and Chilean trade unions.
“However, when Labour lost the 1987 election I thought ‘sod it’ and applied for the first interesting-looking job internationally – so you could say it was Mrs Thatcher who brought me to New Zealand.”
He arrived in 1988 and joined the New Zealand Labour Party. As Professor of Human Resource Development at the University of Auckland he has focused his research in part on the Pacific Rim in the areas of national policy towards internationalism, the role of the World Trade Organisation and the development of the ASEAN economies. He has recently begun work on the international fishing industry.
He has worked extensively with the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO). He also chaired the Partnership Resource Centre in the Department of Labour and its successor the High Performance Work Initiative, and the Centre of Housing Research, and was National President of the Association of University Staff.
“There has always been a lot of interaction between my work and politics. Then four years ago I was inveigled to join the New Zealand Labour’s Party’s Policy Council, then joined the Party’s Council.
“I thought long and hard when I was asked to stand as president and, having made the decision to do so, I’m heartened by the positivity I am experiencing for Labour around the country.
“We have come out of defeat in better shape than we might have. There is a lot of energy and enthusiasm among members.
“Andrew Little’s leadership is going very well. He has authority and experience and people recognise that and it is really striking a chord within communities.
“There is a lot of unity of purpose with the caucus. We have been delivering a lot of hits on National, from Zero Hours to Auckland Housing, and they have been inflicting hits on themselves, like the budget deficit, Mr Bridges’ many bridges and, of course, ponytails.
Strategy for change
“My view is that a major reason for our performance in the 2014 election is that we never looked credible. You have to look like a government in waiting.
“Commentators have generally accepted that we had the best technical policy but we didn’t pull in the vote. Did we present too much policy or too little, or not present it well?
“A lot of work is under way to tackle these challenges. We have the draft reports from the election review. That has given us some very clear insights into what we need to do to build that credibility.
“We need to be unified and disciplined, we need fundraising and resources in place and we need to have the right communication strategy. We have to package ourselves much more effectively to win over the voters we have lost since 2005.
“We have a unified caucus and a strong, unified party – now we need to be outward looking, get out into the community with our messages and build our membership.
“By the end of this year we need to be ready, with strong policies in place and with Andrew at the head of a great team working seamlessly together. We need to be presenting ourselves very strongly as the credible solution for people who are increasingly dissatisfied with the policies and third-term arrogance of this National Government.”