Sunday, November 09, 2008

Reflections on Helen Clark

I hadn't said anything about the 2008 electoral campaign because I regarded the result as a foregone conclusion and couldn't wait for it to be over. Labour had contracted a terminal case of Howard's disease (i.e. it had run dry of ideas) and the numerous sagas since then (the Owen Glenn affair, the secret taping of the Nats, Mike Williams desperate dash to Oz to find dirt on John Key etc.) only reinforced my conviction that this was a government in need of humane slaughter. The election was always going to be the end of an era and I think Helen Clark had foreseen this given her decision to step down as Party Leader during her concession speech. Her announcement was dramatic but really unsurprising. There's no way after nine years in power that she could seriously expected the public to reconsider re-electing her in the future.

While Clark has been a very capable prime minister (in terms of effectiveness, she's well ahead of Jim Bolger and leaves David Lange on the starting line), I didn't like many of her policies and I never liked her style. Her problems with the truth (e.g. leaking false information in the Peter Doone affair, signing paintings she hadn't painted and then passing them off as hers, claiming she hadn't noticed how fast she was going in the speeding convoy) were bad enough but coupled with repellant rhetoric (describing Don Brash as "cancerous", saying that Fiji would become a "leper" and most recently claiming that John Key was on the verge of crying during the first leader's debate) she needlessly created division during her administration.

Clark was noted for keeping a large number of useless ministers on in cabinet well after most managers would have cut them loose. However her one error, I believe, in the recent parliamentary term was her inability to deal with Michael Cullen, a titan in her cabinet who was content to consider that being in a minority of one about his policies was "a comfortable working majority" (originally applied by Gerald Hensley to Robert Muldoon). His attitude towards tax cuts had almost cost Labour the 2005 election and she would have well-advised to kick him upstairs during the last term. But for some reason, she didn't remove Cullen from the financial portfolio whereas Jim Bolger could remove Ruth Richardson after the 1993 election. By the time Cullen was made to offer something substantial this year, the phone was off the hook and Clark's tumble from power was inevitable.