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Jas McIntosh (Photo: Youth Wings)
Jas McIntosh (Photo: Youth Wings)

PoliticsSeptember 19, 2023

The Young Labour chair who refuses to be in a centrist party

Jas McIntosh (Photo: Youth Wings)
Jas McIntosh (Photo: Youth Wings)

In the latest episode of Youth Wings, Southern Young Labour chairperson Jas McIntosh is faced with the prospect that she may be in a centrist party.

“I was like, ‘noooo,’” says Jas McIntosh, shaking her fist one evening at the Labour office in Ōtepoti. She’s describing the moment she read an email from the policy council saying Labour was ruling out a wealth tax and re-ruling out a capital gains tax. Her reaction to hearing Jacinda Ardern had resigned started with an “F” and then was self-censored.

“You thought you were joining a left-wing party,” says Labour member Bill Southworth. “You’re in a centrist one now.”

“Well hold me damned,” says McIntosh, “that’s not happening.”

On the wall of the office is an A4 piece of paper with the question “Why did you join Labour?”

Underneath, volunteers have stuck coloured post-it notes which read: social justice, environment, social equity, union-friendly, working class rights, peace, committed to Labour values and “meet new people”.

McIntosh, the 23-year-old chairperson of Southern Young Labour, initially joined the Young Greens, but was then motivated to join Labour by Jacinda Ardern, “as corny as it is to say”. Now, Ardern is a discarded sign on the floor in the corner of the Labour office.

McIntosh says her political outlook was formed by growing up without much money – her family had inches of ice building up inside their windows as they couldn’t afford heating. “When you experience that sort of thing, you form your own beliefs,” says McIntosh. Her own difficulties accessing a diagnosis and appropriate care for neurodiversity led her to create a parliamentary petition to make neurodiversity assessments more affordable and available for all. Though her diagnosis was a “two-for-one deal” where she discovered she has autism alongside ADHD, it came after decades of difficulties and at a high cost – as a result, she couldn’t afford her course books that semester. More than 8,000 people signed her petition.

At Otago University’s Re-O clubs week, McIntosh is handing out Labour branded keep cups which, according to local Labour MP, Rachel Brooking, are definitely not merch, but rather “a way to contact your local MP”, when she’s approached by Chlöe Swarbrick. The Green MP was diagnosed with ADHD last year. “Hey, good to see you, in like, real life,” says Swarbrick with a beaming smile. “Are we handing over your petition soon?”

In Wellington the night before the petition handover, McIntosh is stumped by a question sent from a media person in preparation for a Q&A. “If the Labour Party forms a government following the October election, will the Labour Party put measures in place to assist people with neurodiversity issues?” She can’t say. When McIntosh calls David Clark, Labour MP for Dunedin, he says, “I wouldnt stress about it too much.” He reassures her that, “we’ve managed to dig out a bit of material at this end.”

On July 27, McIntosh makes her way to the Beehive’s steps with her dad. There, a crowd of neurodiversity advocates, politicians and media gather in support of the petition, and to receive it. “You got this,” says Swarbrick as McIntosh unfolds her speech notes. Swarbrick later nods enthusiastically along to McIntosh’s speech. Currently, neurodiversity or mental health are not mentioned on Labours 2023 plan, while the Green party’s mental health plan includes ensuring timely diagnosis and effective support systems for people with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and other forms of neurodivergence.

Watch more episodes of Youth Wings here. Made with support from NZ On Air.

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