Sunday, April 12, 2009

Clark's Valedictory

I have to say I enjoyed it. I think it's a bit early to expect Clark to be trumpeting her failings. None of us can yet give a really balanced opinion of the events of 2008 or the successes and failures of the third term of the fifth Labour government.

I recommend the extended interview on Focus on Politics.

Several points she made there, rather than in the speech, were particularly interesting to me:

Firstly, she mentioned the book "Head and Shoulders" edited by Virginia Myers in reference to her early experiences in Parliament. I've long thought that this interview was by a very great margin the single most enlightening account of Clark that I have come across. Re-reading it just now, it's remarkably prophetic of later developments. Some form of split with Anderton has already occured over his public comments in the wake of the Timaru by-election. "That caused some difficulties between us. But I have a strong sense of self-preservation. I didn't come this far to be burnt out in a hail of gunfire." She rejects being labelled as a communist or a Bennite, "I don't see myself as a radical at all, but as very much mainstream Labour --- what would be called 'social democrat' overseas." Despite being on the outs with Caucus at the time of the interview she is looking to the future "Perhaps my chance will come with the fifth Labour government. That could be about 1996 and I'll just be in my prime!". You can find copies in any decent NZ second-hand bookshop.

Secondly, I think she may have hinted at oneday writing a considered and well researched account of her time in politics. This would be an enormous service to our political culture. The fourth Labour government has so far produced only disappointing accounts from its participants. Lange and Bassett have written rushed and unreflective books, despite Bassett's remarkable notes and historical training. Meanwhile Douglas has jumped back into the political fray when it would be much more useful for him to be writing a really good book.

And thirdly, I have to admit that, yes, in response to something like the famous John Dickerson question (what were your mistakes? or regrets?), Clark really did sound more like Bush II than Frank Sinatra. But perhaps that is a mistake too small to mention.

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