BLUE COLLAR, OR BLUE RINSE?
A couple of weeks ago, the Dominion Post’s Saturday magazine, Your Weekend, published an article of mine about Lower Hutt. You can read it here:
Towards the end of the article I quoted Hutt South Labour MP Trevor Mallard and mentioned that he was raised in Wainuiomata. During my interview with him I had asked whether he grew up in Lower Hutt and he had replied: “I grew up in Wainuiomata”.
Someone I know subsequently contacted me to say that this was untrue: Mallard had grown up in Khandallah. She understood his father had been a stockbroker. This informant put me in touch with another person, also known to me, who confirmed that he’d been at primary school with Mallard in Khandallah and played sport with him there. He said Mallard had later attended nearby Onslow College – a decile 10 school, and a long bus ride from Wainui. I was able to confirm this by checking the MP’s entry in the New Zealand Who’s Who. What’s more, a Google search revealed that Mallard had frequently been described in the past as a Wainuiomata boy; no mention of Khandallah. Similarly, his website during the 2011 election had him saying he’d lived in Wainui “for the majority [sic] of my life”.
The significance of this, for those unfamiliar with the sociology of Greater Wellington, is that Wainuiomata is about as working-class as you can get in New Zealand, whereas Khandallah is at the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum: a leafy suburb of lawyers, doctors, company directors and suchlike. The obvious implication was that Mallard was being less than honest about his background in order to bolster his blue-collar cred with Labour supporters.
Well, I contacted Mallard today and put this discrepancy to him. He seemed unfazed, explaining that he’d attended Wainuiomata Primary School, been a foundation pupil at Wainui’s Wood Hatton School (a school, ironically, that he closed down when he was Minister of Education) and had shifted to Khandallah during his Form I year. He came back to Wainuiomata later, he said. “And you also went to Onslow College?” I asked. “Yes I did.” He added that he had relatives in Wainuiomata and a long family history there.
So where does this leave us? Since his school attendance is a matter of public record (and I can’t imagine he would risk telling fibs about something so easily checked), we can only conclude that he has been rather selective in highlighting his Wainuiomata background while playing down his more privileged antecedents. While you could take the moral high ground and argue that this isn’t 100 percent honest, from a pragmatic point of view I suppose it’s simply smart politics.