Palmer on Lange and Clark

Anthony Hubbard at Stuff reports:

The Lange government fell apart, Sir Geoffrey says, because of “a failure of one of the most basic principles of Cabinet government”.

Prime Minister was the main culprit. He canned the newly elected government’s notorious economic package of December 1987, a dramatic lurch to the Right based on a flat income tax and sweeping privatisation.

Lange’s unilateral decision was something “that you can’t do”, Sir Geoffrey says. “And that’s why it all fell apart.”

He points to the selfishness of both men. “Neither David nor Roger seemed in their epic struggle to consider the interests of anyone but themselves,” he writes.

There were faults on both sides, “but David had serious weaknesses that in the end destroyed his government”.

“He could not or would not have meaningful discussions with Roger Douglas over their differences.”

In terms of the actual management of government, Lange was arguably the most incompetent Prime Minister we’ve had. He had great strengths but he couldn’t do the basics right.

“He was not well organised personally and lacked administrative skills. His office was not well run and that was his fault.

“He did not have much stamina for meetings, and politics requires many long meetings. He often left meetings for long periods, aimlessly wandering about talking to people.”

Lange’s “multifarious health problems affected not only his ability for sustained work but also in later years his judgment. . .

“Neither did he seem to be able or willing in Cabinet to argue strongly for particular policy positions, so it was hard to see where he was coming from.

“He really did not exert much influence over the policies of his own government. He was not an effective policy operator.”

Nature abhors a vacuum, and this is probably one of the reasons why Roger Douglas ended up almost running the Government.

When Sir Geoffrey became prime minister, was elected as his deputy. His assessment of her performance is cool.

Clark “is, as everyone knows, extremely able. She was not, however, an ideal deputy because she had only been a minister since the 1987 election.

“In January 1990 she was saddled with two new and difficult portfolios, health and labour. As a result, she did not have the time to devote to firefighting and management of the whole.

“Her style was to micromanage her portfolios. She had strong connections with the party and that was very helpful, but I found myself wishing sometimes that I had a deputy of the type I had been.”

Loyal? Clark knifed Palmer to install Moore.

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