Jim Anderton's legacy according to Helen Clark and Laila Harre

Jim Anderton is being remembered by two of the women he worked most closely with as a hard-working activist who slowly but surely, got things done.

Mr Anderton, 79, died at the weekend after a long battle with illness.

Former MP Laila Harre said he would "always be a symbol of the possibility of standing up against the powers that be, of rejecting the pressure to conform, and of doing the right thing".

"He was a very clear-headed, thoughtful leader," the former Alliance leader told RadioLIVE on Monday.

"He'd chosen to convert to Catholicism as a young man, and I think he really did exhibit that ideal of socialism as applied Christianity. That was also extremely important to him."

From Labour to Opposition

Mr Anderton entered Parliament as a Labour MP in 1984. He later quit, unhappy with the party's adoption of 'Rogernomics' and the sale of BNZ. Between 1991 and 2002 he led the Alliance - Ms Harre joining him in Parliament in 1996.

"Jim stood apart from the pressure to give in to the need to proceed with the programme that was so fundamentally against the principles of Labour," she said.

"He provided leadership during the period when those who were devastated by the effects of Roger Douglas' economic policies needed a hero and leader. He was prepared to take on that task."

Former Labour leader and Prime Minister Helen Clark first met Mr Anderton in the early 1970s, and during the 1980s had similar qualms about Labour's economic direction.

"There were a number of us who were not happy about the direction the fourth Labour Government took," she told RadioLIVE. "The majority, like me, decided to stay in and fight... Jim took another course. He said it was so bad, it needed a new party."

Helen Clark and Jim Anderton.
Helen Clark and Jim Anderton. Photo credit: Getty

After spending much of the 1990s in Opposition, Labour and the Alliance came together to contest - and win - the 1999 election.

"That made for a very strong Government, a Government that lasted nine years," said Miss Clark.

A 'heartbreaking' split

Only the first three of those were with the Alliance, however. The September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the US sparked a split in the party, with Mr Anderton backing Labour's decision to assist with the invasion of Afghanistan, and the rest of the party opposed.

"For many of us in the Alliance this issue went to our fundamental sort of views about politics and democracy and international law and human rights, and were opposed to the military invasion of Afghanistan," said Ms Harre.

"Jim decided to make that a confidence issue, and unfortunately the party didn't back him and he left, and it was heartbreaking."

Jim Anderton. Photo credit: Getty

Ms Harre said the Alliance was also losing electoral support "not because it had done anything wrong or was unpopular, but because Labour were very, very dominant in the public eye as the leader of that Government".

'Jim always did his homework'

Mr Anderton's new party the Progressives stuck with Labour through the rest of Miss Clark's leadership, during which he was instrumental in the establishment of Kiwibank - despite his boss not being entirely convinced it would work.

"The case Jim made was the right case, and that was that the banking system had more or less exited a lot of the smaller communities in suburbs and rural towns. For many people, that meant they didn't have easy access to banking systems.

"My concern at the time was would it stack up commercially? Would this bank actually work? Well, it did work. It was incredibly successful. People will rightly cite that as one of Jim's legacies."

Ms Harre said his success with Kiwibank shouldn't have come as a surprise.

"He really studied the issues and demanded very high-quality research policy work to be done before he would champion something. You always felt you were on pretty solid ground when you back an Anderton cause because of the intellectual effort that had gone into coming to that decision, that this was the right thing to do."

"Jim always did his homework," added Miss Clark. "If people are going to have an argument with Jim, they needed to be pretty well-prepared… He knew what he was talking about."

Laila Harre
Laila Harre. Photo credit: Newshub.

His dedication to research sometimes made him a bit slow to adopt new causes, however. Ms Harre said he resisted MMP "for a very long time" despite the obvious benefits it would have for a small party like the Alliance.

"It took a long time for him to be convinced and to study the arguments, to consult with experts before he was personally convinced… that it was ethically correct."

'His legacy lives on'

Despite his legacy, Mr Anderton's beliefs meant he would never have accepted knighthood, said Miss Clark.

"It's got to be remembered our Government took the knighthoods and damehoods out of the honours system... Jim would never accept a knighthood as I would never accept a damehood, because we felt inherently this contradicted the values system we thought New Zealand had - an egalitarian one."

Ms Harre said Mr Anderton would remain an inspiration, honour or no honour.

"For many of us, myself included, his legacy lives on in the work that we continue to do."