I have observed Kieran McAnulty’s career with some interest. He’s my local MP, after all.
I’ve never met him, so I know only what I’ve read. (This is a legitimate basis on which to judge politicians, since it’s how the vast majority of voters must form their opinions.)
In his first term in Parliament, from 2017, McAnulty earned a reputation as a rising star in the Labour Party firmament. He’s now much more than that, having been appointed the government’s chief whip in 2020 and more recently made a minister outside cabinet. He’s on the up, in other words.
In my eyes he attained a new level of political credibility when the people of the Wairarapa chose him as their MP. Previously he got into Parliament by virtue of his place on the Labour list, which is no substitute for the endorsement of real voters. But he earned his place in the House by being hard-working and highly visible, first as a candidate and subsequently as an MP. He has positioned himself as a battler for the Wairarapa and always seems to ensure his name is mentioned when positive things happen in the electorate.
What makes McAnulty an interesting politician is that he has adroitly cultivated an image as a traditional Kiwi bloke in a party that doesn’t generally have much time for blokedom. In that respect he displays similar characteristics to the late Mike Moore and to Shane Jones (the latter a Labour cabinet minister before deducing he had more of a future with New Zealand First).
McAnulty forms a useful bridge between urban Labour and the provincial heartland, much of which switched its support from National to Labour in 2020 and will be crucial in determining the outcome of the next election. His previous occupation (a bookmaker for the TAB) and his celebrated 1997 Mazda ute, which he used to great effect as a political prop, fed into his image as an unconventional Labour MP and something of a hard case.
Along the way he appears to have established a close rapport with the prime minister, who happens to share his provincial background. I don’t think any of this happened by chance. McAnulty’s blokey persona serves him well, but underneath it I’ve no doubt he’s an ambitious, calculating politician. Neither do I doubt that if it came to the crunch, he would defer to the woke and Maori factions in the Labour caucus, because that’s where power resides.
Nonetheless, it could be said that the MP for Wairarapa hasn’t put a foot wrong … so far. But neither has he really been tested, and that may soon change. He now risks being collateral damage in the furore over renegade MP Gaurav Sharma, who alleges he was badly treated by the Labour whips. That implicates McAnulty, since he was chief whip for most of the period Sharma has complained about. Certainly he's in the political spotlight in a way he hasn't experienced before, and not in a good way.
Voters could be excused for wondering whether, under the surface bonhomie, McAnulty is a bit of a bully. After all, that’s what being a party whip requires, as Chris Trotter reminds us in a superb piece on the Bassett, Brash and Hide website.
Meanwhile I’m aware of potentially damaging information about McAnulty circulating on social media. His best hope is that the mainstream media will dismiss it as mischievous gossip – but as the Sam Uffindell saga reminds us, in the toxic political environment of 2022 there are no guarantees that embarrassing secrets will stay secret. Only those who are as pure as the driven snow – in other words, probably no one – can be assured of untroubled sleep.