RIP Lee Kuan Yew

March 23rd, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Lee Kuan Yew has died aged 91. If there is such a thing as a benign dictator, he might have been it.

He formed the People’s Action Party in 1954 as a 31 year old. He became PM in 1959 when they won 43 out of 51 seats. Singapore then merged with Malaysia, but Malaysia severed ties in 1965 when led to Singapore becoming an independent state – a state with almost no natural resources.

He won seven elections in a row, with basically no effective opposition parties.  In 1990 he officially retired as Prime Minister but remained a de facto head of state as senior minister.

I doubt any one individual has ever been so influential in a country’s development, and overwhelmingly for the better.

RIP Malcolm Fraser

March 20th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Malcolm Fraser has died aged 84.

He is the first Australian Prime Minister I can recall. He served almost exactly the same term (1975 to 1983) as Sir Robert Muldoon did in NZ. This probably aggravated them both equally, as they famously did not get on.

He won the 1975 election in a landslide of 91 seats to 36. They also had 35 out of 64 seats in the Senate.

In 1977 they won almost as well 86 seats to 38. The Senate had them with 35 out of 62 seats.

In 1980 it was a comfortable 74 seats to 51 and the Senate was 31 out of 64.

He lost office to Bob Hawke in 1983, holding just 50 seats out of 125.

He was never a hugely a popular leader of the Liberals and after his defeat drifted well to the left of the Coalition, and probably regarded by most Coalition figures with the same disdain UK Conservatives had for Edward Heath.

Fraser has gone to the left of Labor, calling for Australia to abandon its alliance with the US. In the 2013 elections he did a TV endorsements for a Green Senator.

He started his tenure as PM hated by the left for the way he came into office through the sacking of Whitlam. He finished his political life lionised by many on the left and scorned by his former party.

I quite liked him when he was PM, because he wasn’t Muldoon 🙂

RIP Terry Pratchett

March 13th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Author Terry Pratchett has died at the age of 66 after a battle with Alzheimer’s.

The bestselling and much-loved author writer died at home on Thursday, surrounded by his family and with his cat sleeping on his bed, according to a statement which is published in full below.

Pratchett’s Facebook page was updated to say: “It is with immeasurable sadness that we announce that author Sir Terry Pratchett has died.

“The world has lost one of its brightest, sharpest minds. Rest in peace Sir Terry Pratchett.”

Pratchett wrote over 70 books, including 40 as part of the fantasy Discworld series, and sold over 85 million copies in his lifetime.

As soon as news broke of his death broke on Thursday afternoon, his website crashed under the weight of fans wanting to remember the writer.

A very sad loss.

RIP Leonard Nimoy

February 28th, 2015 at 10:43 am by David Farrar

Leonard Nimoy has died aged 83. he is of course immortalised as the original Spock, whose cultural impact is almost incalculable.

Before he was an actor, he served in the US Army for two years. He appeared in many TV series and films in minor roles before Star Trek including appearing with William Shatner in an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

He played Spock from 1966 to 1969 in Star Trek, and in the first six feature films. He also appeared in the two JJ Abrams movies, as the elder Spock. He actually invented the Vulcan salute.

Both the generation who grew up on Star Trek, and the generation since will mourn his passing. Live long and prosper no more.

RIP Colleen McCullough

January 29th, 2015 at 9:52 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Colleen McCullough, the internationally famous Australian author, has died in hospital on Norfolk Island. She was 77.

McCullough worked as a neuroscientist in the United States before turning to writing full-time. The Thorn Birds, a romantic Australian saga published in 1977, became a worldwide bestseller and a popular mini-series in 1983.

I’ve read The Thorn Birds half a dozen times. McCullough writes with such detail and vividness that it is engrossing. The link to NZ perhaps helped a bit, but it is more her ability to tell such a captivating story where you get so caught up in what happens the characters – especially Ralph and Meggie.

The mini-series version was worthy of the book. Richard Chamberlain was perfect as Father Ralph. Such a good story of love vs ambition.

Her 25 novels included a deeply researched series set in Ancient Rome, which won her the admiration of readers including former NSW Premier Bob Carr and Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Her seven part Masters of Rome series is directly responsible for my interest in classics and Rome. She brought Rome’s life, culture, politics and wars to life in an incredible way. Since I read them, I have gone on to read probably three dozen biographies of Caesar, Sulla, Augustus etc plus several classical texts and scores of other historical fiction set in Rome.

Her historical fiction in Rome was so accurate she was granted an honorary PhD from Macquarie University for it. While she got me onto other Roman historical fiction such as Conn Iggulden, I found most other books set in that era inadequate as it did not have McCullough’s near perfect historical accuracy.  Robert Harris is very good also.

I can’t think of an author who has had as much impact on my life in terms of what I read.

McCullough was born in Wellington, but moved to Australia as a child NSW, and her mother was a Kiwi. Her passing is a great loss to literature.

RIP Chic Littlewood

January 12th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Well-known TV and variety performer Chic Littlewood has died in Auckland.

He came to New Zealand from Britain with his wife and their two sons in 1964 and worked as a baker, later getting into theatre and eventually tv, hosting such favourite children’s shows as Chicaboom, which in 1978 became Chic Chat.

In 1977 he was the first variety entertainer to be awarded Entertainer of the Year, and in 1979 the Variety Artists Club awarded him a Benny Award.

As a kid I watched Chic Littlewood on TV. Willie McNabb was great with him. A sad loss.

RIP Sir Ivor Richardson

January 2nd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

One of New Zealand’s most respected judges, Sir Ivor Richardson, has died at the age of 84.

In a long and distinguished legal career, Sir Ivor rose to became president of the Court of Appeal. He was appointed a judge of the then Supreme Court in 1977 but was almost immediately appointed to the Court of Appeal, where he served from 1978 to 2002.

Richardson was president of the Court of Appeal from 1996 until his retirement at age 72.

Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias said he was a great New Zealander. “He had an unparalleled influence on New Zealand law during his long tenure as a judge, law teacher, and adviser,” she said.

“His work as an appellate judge for nearly three decades touched all areas of law and provided leading cases which remain authoritative today. In addition, his collegial approach to judging and his interest in better judicial administration meant that he has had a unique influence upon the operation of the courts.” …

Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson, QC, also paid tribute to Richardson on behalf of the Government. “It is hard to think of anyone who has made a more substantive contribution to the law and social policy,” Finlayson said. “His was a career marked by excellence in everything he did.”

“Sir Ivor Richardson was unfailingly courteous and pleasant to appear before. But if you weren’t on top of your material, his questions would destroy your case very quickly.”


It says much about Sir Ivor that he was appointed to the Court of Appeal the same year as he was appointed to the High Court. He was made a member of the Privy Council in 1978. A huge loss to the legal profession, but especially to his family and friends.

RIP Phillip Hughes

November 28th, 2014 at 7:39 am by David Farrar

The death of Phillip Hughes is incredibly sad – not just for his family, colleagues and friends – but also for the cricketing world.

No game is without its risks, but the rarity of dying from playing the game has been minuscule.

One really doesn’t know what to say. It is just such incredible misfortune.

RIP Ewen Gilmour

October 3rd, 2014 at 3:19 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Kiwis are mourning “Westie” comedian Ewen Gilmour, who died at his home unexpectedly. He was 51.

Gilmour’s agent, ​Hillary Coe,​ confirmed he passed away last night.

“He passed away at home. It was very unexpected as he had not been unwell but it was natural, he passed away in his sleep.”

How sad and unexpected. Condolences to his family and friends.

I saw him do his comedy show around two years ago in Wellington. He was side splitting funny and I may never turn on a hotel light again! The review of his show is here. A huge loss to the NZ comedy scene.

RIP Joan Rivers

September 6th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Joan Rivers has died aged 81.

She has been a regular on screen for over 50 years. A very funny woman who pushed the boundaries with some exceptionally politically incorrect humour.

RIP Robin Williams

August 12th, 2014 at 11:41 am by David Farrar

3 News reports:

Actor and comedian Robin Williams has been found dead, his publicist has announced. He was 63.

He was found in his home and the cause of death is believed to be suicide.

“Robin Williams passed away this morning,” his publicist said in a statement.

“He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”

“This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings,” Williams’ wife Susan Schneider said.

“I am utterly heartbroken. On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

How very very sad. I’m stunned.

It is a reminder that even the apparently happiest and funniest people can struggle with their mental health.

I loves so many of his shows and movies. Mork & Mindy was great, and Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society are my favourite of his movies.

It was during one of his appearances on David Letterman that it struck me what a comic genius he was. Normally Letterman is the one doing most of the talking, but Williams came on and just took over and engaged with the crowd for probably five minutes or more without a pause, before Letterman got to say anything. His stand up skills are almost unsurpassed.

A huge loss to his family, but also to the entire world of comedy. A very sad day.


RIP Kevin Skinner

July 22nd, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Legendary All Blacks prop Kevin Skinner has died in Auckland, aged 86.

Skinner died over the weekend, a New Zealand Rugby spokesman confirmed today.

He played 20 tests and 63 games all told for the All Blacks during an international career that spanned 1949 to 1956.

He was a hard-nosed, durable and tough prop who had his finest moments in the 1956 series against South Africa when he came out of retirement for the last two tests and was credited with the being the man who regained the physical edge for the All Blacks.

The All Blacks won the second test 17-10 in Christchurch and the decider 11-5 in Auckland.

Skinner was also renowned for his boxing prowess, and was the 1947 New Zealand heavyweight boxing champion.

His recall for the 3rd test in 1956 was an act of genius. The South African front row were basically thugs, so we decided to play their game. They would grab testicles of the All Blacks and the like.

Skinner floored Koch with a right hook that could be clearly heard far away. I know one of the doctors who was on duty at the local hospital and Koch was still unconscious when he arrived. How Skinner wasn’t sent out, let alone even penalised I don’t know. But it worked – the South Africans stopped playing dirty.

Skinner is reputed to be the most hated All Black in South Africa. That would be a worthy epitaph for his gravestone!

RIP Rik Mayall

June 10th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Rik Mayall has died, aged only 56. I loved him in The Young Ones and The New Statesman.

RIP Charlotte Dawson

February 22nd, 2014 at 3:29 pm by David Farrar

The Daily Telegraph reports:

CHARLOTTE Dawson has been found dead at her Woolloomooloo home.

The popular television presenter is understood to have been found by a security guard this morning.

Dawson, 47, had long battled depression.

Police confirmed they were called to Woolloomooloo wharf at 11.18am and there were no suspicious circumstances to the death.

This is very sad. Dawson was very open about her battle with depression. Many were supportive of her, but there were quite a few who were incredibly nasty towards her on Twitter and urged her to kill herself. I hope those people who took part in her tormenting go through a period of soul searching.

I didn’t know Charlotte first hand, but know several people who did know her well, and they always spoke warmly of her sense of humour and generosity. Both her passing, and the manner of it, are very sad.

For those who may need assistance, the depression helpline is 0800 111 757.

RIP Ian Wells

January 6th, 2014 at 8:31 am by David Farrar

The Dominion Post reports:

The man who helped bring the Absolutely Positively Wellington and the Wellington Phoenix to life, has died.

Ian Wells, head of New Zealand Tennis, chairman of Cricket Wellington and a former general manager of The Dominion Post, was 76 when he died peacefully on Saturday.

His son Jason said his father was one of the smartest people you could ever meet.

“Dad was very generous, very passionate about sport and about Wellington,” he said. “He loved the newspapers and he loved life.”

Mr Wells and fellow bid head John Dow conceived the idea for a Wellington team to take over the failed Auckland Knights A-League licence in 2007.

The pair did most of the work on the bid, but almost failed to secure the money needed to start the team. Entrepreneur Terry Serepisos stepped in at the eleventh hour to bankroll the team and the rest is history.

His great football love was Wellington club side Miramar Rangers, of which he was chairman and a life member.

Mr Wells began his career as a sports reporter with The Dominion in 1965.

He later became advertising manager and business manager for Wellington Newspapers before spending 17 years as general manager from 1985.

I didn’t know Ian well, but did meet him a couple of times when I had a holiday job working for Wellington Newspapers in their credit control section. A hugely respected figure.

Under his watch, the company developed the Absolutely Positively Wellington slogan and gifted it to Wellington City Council.

His involvement with New Zealand Tennis started in the 1970s and he served as chairman of the national body for 20 years.

In 2004, he became chairman of Cricket Wellington. Former New Zealand cricketer Gavin Larsen, who was chief executive during Mr Wells’ tenure, said yesterday: “It’s a really sad loss. Ian’s contribution to sports admin has been immense . . . we have lost an absolute champion. He was very insightful and I really valued his wise counsel when it came to some of the tougher decisions that have to be made . . . I feel I have lost a friend.”

Few people have given as much to Wellington and to NZ sport than Ian.

Nelson Mandela RIP

December 6th, 2013 at 11:33 am by David Farrar

As was inevitable, Nelson Mandela has died, aged 95.

I was fortunate enough to briefly meet him when he visited New Zealand in the 1990s. It was the typical two second greet and meet, but he had almost an aura about him that I have not encountered before or since. Former Governor-General Cath Tizard summed it up well:

He put his arm around my shoulders as we walked back to the terminal – and thereafter called me Cathy. What a lovely man he was. He quite enchanted everyone he met with his natural manner and simple charm. I was more in awe of him than of any of the queens, kings and presidents I had ever met.

Mandela had a special role in the world, for three reasons, I would say. One was his incredible personal humility and charm. The other two were his role as the leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and the other was his role as the first democratically elected President of South Africa.

His role in the anti-apartheid struggle was controversial. While the struggle was noble, the tactics changed from civil disobedience to armed struggle. Reasonable people can disagree on whether it is legitimate to resort to violence, if you are not allowed to vote on the basis of your race, and there is no prospect of change. For my 2c, I don’t think resorting to violence was the right decision, but I may have thought differently if I was a black in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s.

He spent 27 years in prison. Upon his release he was elected President of South Africa in their first democratic elections. And his remarkable legacy is that he preached peace and reconciliation, not revenge. Let me tell you that if my political enemies kept me in jail for 27 years, then the last thing on my mind coming out would be peace and reconciliation. I would have a very long list of names I wanted utu on.

Of course post-apartheid South Africa is far from ideal. It has many challenges, partly because so much of its population were kept out of decent education and jobs for generations. But if any other person bar Mandela had become their first President, I think it would be far far worse. He was elected at the age of 75, and in an act of unification made F W De Klerk his Deputy President.

Acts that greatly unified the country included reaching out to the widow of apartheid founder Hendrik Verwoerd with forgiveness and reconciliation, and also urging black South Africans to get behind the previously despised Springboks.

Mandela is not a saint, but he was a symbol, and he played the major role in eventually peacefully ending apartheid, that made the world a better place.

A great tribute to Fats

November 9th, 2013 at 7:22 am by David Farrar

David Kirk has written a superb tribute to Fats in the NZ Herald. Three extracts:

There’s Fats in the Ponsonby jersey he was so proud to wear, taking a pass from the halfback off a short lineout in a club match. Within three metres he is at full speed, bull neck tucked into his hunched shoulders, cannonball head forward, legs pumping. Fats on the charge was a fearsome sight. The various components of the running man – arms, legs, a head on top – morphed into a spinning ball of muscle. I, for one, was happy to defer to a larger type when it came to getting in the way. On this day on Eden Park, as University gave as good as it got in a top of the table battle, Mata’afa Keenan had no hesitation. In true Pacific Island style, he didn’t wait. He ran at Fats. Mass times velocity times two equals sickening smash. Both players bounced back and ended up splayed on the ground. Mata’afa was up and all good. Fats, too, was up quickly, but he put his hand on the shoulder he had led with and then he rolled his shoulder a couple of times. That was the only time I ever saw Fats register physical discomfort. Boy it felt good!


One misty autumn day in Oxford in 1988 I got a call from Peter Fatialofa. Fats was the captain of the Samoan touring team in Britain. Samoa was playing a match in Cardiff that week and Fats wanted to know if I could come down to see the team and take a training session. I took the train down, arriving at about midday and we had the training session in the afternoon. I stayed in the evening for dinner with the team and by then it was too late to get a train back. The Samoan rugby union had no money to pay for an extra room, so Fats said I would stay in his room. I expected twin beds, but there was only one bed and it was a single. Fats gestured to the bed and said, “That’s yours”. He slept on the floor. No blankets, no pillow, no complaints. What did sleeping on the floor matter to him if he had prepared his team better for the match ahead?


I can think of no greater compliment to give Peter – and I know he would see it that way – but to say that I wish I had had the opportunity to introduce my own children to him and for them to spend time in his company. To spend time with Peter Fatialofa was to be given a big dose of the best antidote to the tide of self-promotion and brittle celebrity worship that continues to rise like dry rot.

A sad loss.

Paul Jenden RIP

October 28th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Talia Shadwell at Stuff reports:

A bright light of the Wellington arts and theatre scene has been extinguished with the death of lyricist, writer and choreographer Paul Jenden, friends and collaborators say.

Jenden, perhaps best known for his hit Hairy Maclary Show and annual Circa Theatre pantomimes with Roger Hall, died in Wellington Hospital on Saturday evening after a long battle with leukaemia.

I’ve loved Jenden’s work, and would always get excited if I saw he had been involved in a production.

Close friend and collaborator Gareth Farr said Jenden was a tireless worker with a broad creative reach.

Although he was known for his wicked sense of humour and effervescent productions, he was a private man.

“He was just the most genius lyricist and writer,” composer Farr said. “I cannot think of anything I have enjoyed more in my life than working with him.”

Jenden introduced Farr to musicals and, over the past decade, the pair had collaborated on Troy The Musical and The Nero Show. Their working relationship culminated in one final offering this year: C – A Musical, which dealt with Jenden’s personal five-year experience of cancer, and starred his partner Louis Solino.

I saw that play – it managed to both be very sad and funny.

RIP Tom Clancy

October 3rd, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Tom Clancy, whose high-tech, Cold War thrillers such as “The Hunt for Red October” and “Patriot Games” made him the most widely read and influential military novelist of his time, has died. He was 66.

Penguin Group (USA) said today that Clancy had died yesterday in Baltimore. The publisher did not disclose a cause of death.

“We are saddened by the passing of beloved bestselling author Tom Clancy. Fans worldwide, including us, will miss him greatly,” publisher Penguin Books USA said on its official Twitter feed.

The G.P. Putnam’s imprint that appeared on Clancy’s books is a unit of Penguin.

Clancy died in Johns Hopkins Hospital in his native Baltimore, Maryland, according to US media reports. A hospital spokeswoman was not immediately able to confirm that information.

Clancy arrived on best-seller lists in 1984 with “The Hunt for Red October.” He sold the manuscript to the first publisher he tried, the Naval Institute Press, which had never bought original fiction.

A string of other best-sellers soon followed, including “Red Storm Rising,” ”Patriot Games,” ”The Cardinal of the Kremlin,” ”Clear and Present Danger,” ”The Sum of All Fears,” and “Without Remorse.”

The Sum of all Fears is probably my favourite book. Executive Orders also very good. Actually I loved all the books Clancy wrote. However the books that appeared in his “universe” but were mainly written by someone else were pretty awful.

In 1996 I discovered the world of the Internet and especially Internet newsgroups, or Usenet. There were thousands of news groups including one called alt.books.tom-clancy. Fans could start and respond to threads about Clancy’s books.

After a couple of months I noticed a post from a I assumed it was a fan, but it turned out to be Tom Clancy himself. So for around a decade you could interact with Clancy on the newsgroup, and get clarifications on his books, learn about future books etc. The Internet has been great for bringing authors and fans together, and Clancy was probably the first big time author to be publicly participating in this way.

Anyway very sad that there will be no more Clancy books beyond the one due out this year.

RIP Mel Smith

July 21st, 2013 at 10:11 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

British comedian Mel Smith, who became a household name for a series of television sketch shows in the 1970s and 80s which colleagues said had inspired a generation of comics, has died of a heart attack, his agent said overnight (NZ time).

Smith, who died yesterday (NZ time) aged 60, found fame starring in hugely popular shows Not The Nine O’clock News and Alas Smith and Jones and went on to direct the films Bean and The Tall Guy.

I loved both Alas Smith and Jones and Not The Nine O’clock News. Sad he died aged only 60.

RIP Kenneth Minogue

July 7th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Kenneth Minogue died last week, aged 82. Not well known in NZ, but significant classical liberal who was President of the Mont Pelerin Society. Wikipedia notes:

Minogue wrote academic essays and books on a great range of problems in political theory. His 1963 book The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness, about the perversion of the liberal label by radical leftists became popular internationally. Minogue argued that genuine liberalism rests on the tradition of thinkers like Adam SmithBenjamin ConstantAdam FergusonAlexis de Tocqueville,John Stuart Mill et al., who built the foundation for a conservative perspective. Minogue defended civility, decency, and moderation against globalists and leftists, and advocated an honest and transparent public sphere where individuals can freely pursue their own ideas of happiness.

National Review writes about him:

Kenneth Minogue, who was one of the most brilliant yet also most approachable philosophers of liberty, died suddenly on Friday when returning from a conference of the Mont Pelerin Society, whose retiring president he was, on the Galapagos Islands. This is not a formal obituary and so it will not list Ken’s academic achievements and honors. All one need say for the moment is that he was at the center of an extraordinary group of political philosophers, economists, and journalists — other members included Michael Oakeshott, Bill and Shirley Letwin, F.A. Hayek, Roger Scruton, Perry Worsthorne, Noel Malcolm, Colin Welch, Frank Johnson — who between them instilled intellectual rigor, political imagination, a deep appreciation of liberty, and a sharp (occasionally derisive) wit into the all-too-inert body of English conservatism.

Ken, a New Zealander by birth, an Australian by upbringing, and British by affection and long habit, established a solid academic reputation at the London School of Economics and gradually expanded it into an international one through his books and lecture tours. He was well-known throughout Europe and the English-speaking world for the freshness and originality of his thought and expression. He was a contributor to National Review under all of its three editors, and an occasional guest of Bill Buckley’s on Firing Line.

He did come back to NZ from time to time, and will be missed by those who knew him.

RIP Justice Robert Chambers

May 22nd, 2013 at 6:13 pm by David Farrar

NBR reports:.

The death today of Supreme Court Justice Robert Stanley Chambers (59) has been confirmed by Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias.

Senior judicial communications officer Neil Billington told NBR ONLINE Chief Justice Elias is expected to issue a statement soon.

Justice Chambers was appointed to the Supreme Court in December 2011, after seven years on the Court of Appeal and five years on the High Court.

Justice Chambers, the husband of leading divorce Queen’s counsel Deborah Chambers (nee Hollings), began practice as a barrister in 1981 and was appointed Queen’s counsel in 1992.

He graduated LLB (Hons) from Auckland University in 1975 and gained a doctorate from Oxford University in 1978.

This is I believe our first Supreme Court Justice to die in office, and 59 is very young. No details on the cause of death but commiserations to his family, friends and colleagues.

The Attorney-General has said:

“Justice Chambers had an outstanding career as a servant of the law, ultimately appointed to the nation’s highest court,” Mr Finlayson said. “I was devastated to learn of his untimely death.”

“I served with him for many years on the Rules Committee of the High Court, and he had recently been appointed to the Council for Continuing Legal Education as the Chief Justice’s representative. He made a great contribution, and had only begun what was expected to be a long tenure on the Supreme Court.”

“He was involved in so many other areas outside the judiciary, and lived life to the full. It is not often one comes across the likes of Justice Chambers in the profession.”

And the Justice Minister:

“I am extremely sad to learn of the sudden death of Justice Robert Chambers.

“He was renowned across the profession as one of New Zealand’s greatest legal brains. His sudden death at such a young age is a significant loss to the legal community.

“I instructed Justice Chambers on many occasions when he was a barrister. I served with him on the Auckland District Law Society Council for a number of years and when he became President, I was Vice-President. I will always remember Justice Chambers’ for his humanity, terrific wit and way with words.

If he had not died at such a young age, he may have carried on as a Supreme Court Justice for the next 11 years or so. A huge loss.


RIP Parekura Horomia

April 30th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Parekura Horomia had a big heart – both literally, and symbolically. The most common word I am reading in the tributes about him was kind, and I think that is a good description of him. He was not a mean person.

My abiding memory of him will be the televised Ikaroa-Rawhiti debate between him and Derek Fox in 2008. Cam Slater and I were in the audience up in Gisborne for it, as part of our blogmobile tour.

The hall was packed. Around 300 people I’d say. And it was a debate unlike any other I had been to. The questions from the audience were not over what we may call the big issues, but on very real local issues such as school bus routes, local housing developments and the like. All too often politics is about abstract policies, and questions in debates comes from party activists, rather than genuine constituents. It was, as I said, a very good debate.

What most struck me was the closing statements. Derek (the) Fox is an accomplished politician and speaker. He got up and flayed Labour’s record, and Parekura’s record. It was a brutal devastating indictment of their time in office.

The response from Parekura was a real contrast. He spent probably most of his speech greeting the various audience members by name, citing their children, what schools they are at, what he had done for those schools or communities and just connected to the audience is a very real way. Finally he declared that not only were post of the audience part of his extended whanau, even Derek was his cousin and he loved his cousin even when he was trying to take the seat off him and that Derek was a good man.

Parekura was the winner of the debate, and of the election. It was a good reminder that politics is about more than just policies and politics, but can be very much about people at the individual level, not as abstract statistics.

The other abiding memory of that debate, was the almost comical seating arrangements. There were no tables and no chairs. The two debaters just had a tiny stool to sit on, on the large stage.

Now Derek came out, and just sat on his stool. then Parekura came out and saw the stool, and paused. You could almost see what he was thinking – his face had a “You must be kidding” look on it. As there was no alternative, he moved in front of the stool and sort of reversed onto it in a scene akin to a large truck trying to park. Then as he lowered himself onto it, the entire room was collectively holding its breath. The old saying that you could have heard a pin drop, was in play. As he sat on the stool, you saw it buckle but then everyone exhaled as it held up.

It was a comic moment, and I recall him laughing about it at the after debate drinks in the pub across the road.

I don’t think Parekura will go down in history as one of the more effective Ministers, but he was a very decent man who cared greatly for his constituents and for Maoridom. He was the most well known Labour Maori MP, and his death will leave a big hole for them – both personally and politically.

He is the third MP to die in office, since MMP came in. Green List MP Rod Donald died just after the 2005 general election aged 48, and National Tamaki MP Allan Peachey died of cancer just before the 2011 general election, aged 62.

There will of course be a by-election now in Ikaroa-Rawhiti. I’ll focus on that in a later post. For now, my thoughts are with those who were close to Parekura. He was a popular member of Labour’s caucus, and this will be a very sad time for them.

RIP Margaret Thatcher

April 9th, 2013 at 6:37 am by David Farrar

Margaret Thatcher has died, aged 87.

I was fortunate enough to meet Margaret Thatcher around a decade ago. It was an incredible privilege to meet the woman who I regard as the best post-war Prime Minister we have seen.

But what I remember most about that function, was all the young Eastern European politicians who got to meet her. Words can’t describe their emotions as they met one of the people they regarded as having been crucial in helping secure them their freedom.  She was to them, what George Washington was to early Americans.

Of course her respect and popularity was far from universal. She would be disappointed if she ever traded popularity for doing the right thing. There are many who battled against her policies. But people go into politics to make a difference, and Thatcher was proof that one person with conviction and strength can make a huge difference.

People forget how crippled the United Kingdom was economically when she took over. She put the Great back into Great Britain. Her greatest legacy is that after 18 years of Conservative Governments, the new Labour Government basically retained most of her policies – and in some cases Tony Blair pushed her reform agenda further. She forced UK Labour to abandon socialism and embrace the free market. ironically she helped make Labour electable.

She wouldn’t surrender to the Soviet Empire, the IRA, Argentina or the Mining unions. If she thought her cause was just, she stood by it.

Her legacy is not just what she did as Prime Minister, but getting there. She was the daughter of a shop keeper from Grantham. To rise to the leadership of her party and country was an extraordinary achievement for the 1970s.

The Daily Telegraph has a collection of quotes and reactions. A few to highlight:

Paddy Ashdown

If politics is defined as having views, holding to them and driving them through to success, she was undoubtedly the greatest PM of our age.

Lech Walesa

She was a great person. She did a great deal for the world, along with Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Solidarity, she contributed to the demise of communism in Poland and Central Europe.

Vaclav Klaus

Thatcher was one of the greatest politicians of our time, in the Czech Republic she was our hero.

Tony Blair

Margaret Thatcher was a towering political figure. Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world. Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast. And some of the changes she made in Britain were, in certain respects at least, retained by the 1997 Labour Government, and came to be implemented by governments around the world.

As a person she was kind and generous spirited and was always immensely supportive to me as Prime Minister although we came from opposite sides of politics.

Even if you disagreed with her as I did on certain issues and occasionally strongly, you could not disrespect her character or her contribution to Britain’s national life. She will be sadly missed.

Ed Milliband

She will be remembered as a unique figure. She reshaped the politics of a whole generation. She was Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. She moved the centre ground of British politics and was a huge figure on the world stage.

The Labour Party disagreed with much of what she did and she will always remain a controversial figure. But we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength.

She also defined the politics of the 1980s. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and I all grew up in a politics shaped by Lady Thatcher. We took different paths but with her as the crucial figure of that era.

She coped with her final, difficult years with dignity and courage. Critics and supporters will remember her in her prime.

David Cameron

She didn’t just lead our country, she saved our country.

I think she will come to be seen as the greatest Prime Minister our country has ever seen.

Her legacy will be the fact she served her country so well.. She showed immense courage.

People will be learning about her for decades and centuries to come.

Boris Johnson

Very sad to hear of death of Baroness Thatcher. Her memory will live long after the world has forgotten the grey suits of today’s politics.

Her final years were very tough. May she indeed now rest in peace, secure in the knowledge she will never be forgotten for what she achieved.

RIP Geoff Braybrooke

March 12th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The NZ Herald reports:

Geoff Braybrooke, former long-serving Labour MP for Napier, died on Saturday.

Mr Braybrooke had been in a Palmerston North hospice following a lengthy illness.

That’s sad news. Geoff was a very likeable MP, who served his constituents well. He was MP for Napier for 21 years.