Sunday, August 07, 2005

A guide to David Lange's memoirs

Extracts from David Lange's memoirs were published today in both the Sunday Star Times and the Herald on Sunday. As can be expected from David Lange, the extracts are juicy, funny and self-serving. An example is when his cousin, Dr Michael Bassett, is told that he was being shifted from the Ministry of Health to Internal Affairs:
"This is a mistake," he said through very tight lips. He told me at one point that he would never speak to me again unless he had to, so the news was not all bad.
Many of the events that he speaks about often have details that Lange leaves unsaid. For example:
In 1988, when he was taken to hospital with heart disease, Lange asked Palmer to return from overseas to be acting prime minister. He did not want Mike Moore to do the job.

"This led to my parting of the ways with Mike Moore – who was hurt and disappointed at my passing him over. But God alone knew what Moore might do. There was no need for divine guidance when it came to Palmer's stewardship."
However from the Tom Scott's documentary "Reluctant Revolutionary", which screened last year and I blogged about it here, we were informed that Lange's colleagues were so upset about his speech at Yale that the ANZUS treaty was a dead letter, they were about to take serious measures. Lange escaped retribution largely because he was hospitalized for angina after he returned home which cause a upswelling of public sympathy for him. In that context, Lange's recall of Palmer looks more like a measure to forestall a coup rather than preventing Moore from screwing the country up.

Similarly in the leadup to his reversal of the flat-tax package, we are not told that while Douglas was out of the country, Lange had a cabinet meeting in which he discussed his concerns about the package. The result of that meeting, again revealed in "Reluctant Revolutionary" was that Lange gave his word to the Cabinet that he wouldn't do anything until Douglas had returned and a meeting was held to thrash out his concerns. But Lange didn't keep his word and the rest was history. If you ever wanted to know why Bassett was "venemous", that's why.

A final episode that Lange doesn't mention concerns his affair with Margaret Pope. Although he states that "an understanding" was reached in February 1985 around the time of the Oxford debate (answering something that had previously puzzled me), he states:
The only colleague who spoke to him about it was deputy prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, "who thought it his duty to warn me".

In mid-1985 he asked Lange if he knew about the gossip. "'I know,' I said. 'I'm flattered and she's embarrassed,'" Lange writes. "I changed the subject before he could ask me anything else."
Again that's not so. Richard Prebble also spoke to Lange about the matter. From my blog post about "Reluctant Revolutionary":
The funniest anecdote was Prebble upon hearing the rumours that Lange is having an affair with Margaret [Pope]. He tells Lange that if he is having an affair than he should transfer Margaret onto another position. On the other hand, if David wasn't having an affair then he should fire Margaret anyway because his last three speeches were just crap. David told Margaret about it and that was the end of a Beautiful Friendship.
I'll blog on what he says about our leaders in another post.