Michael Bassett breakfast

A very enjoyable breakfast put on by the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, and as with everyone there now the proud owner of a copy of Michael Bassett’s book on the 4th Labour Government. I doubt I will have time to read it until the weekend, or maybe keep it for air travel the following week. So fuller review to follow.

Some of Lange’s former doctors co-operated with the book, and from what Dr Bassett said very few people knew how ill Lange was during his leadership. There were almost parallels with Norman Kirk. It was quite sad thinking of Lange struggling with ill health and the pressures of a fractured Government.

Bassett says Lange’s greatest moments were three of his speeches. One to a Labour Party conference (where he was going over the heads of the hierarchy direct to the delegates), the one wrapping up the economic summit and the Oxford Union debate. He made the point Lange’s skills were in “fronting” the Government rather than leading it.

Some good reminders of his legendary wit, such as when he told an Ambassador he had named his race horse Lackareason after the country’s foreign poliicy 🙂

The internal politics of Labour were very interesting, as described. The Douglas faction had a clear majority in Caucus, but didn’t want to roll Lange, as they kept hoping (in vain) that he would “come right”. Eventually they effectively pushed him out when they re-elected Roger Douglas to Cabinet over Lange’s wishes.

Also of interest is how the Palmer Government did not want to lose Roger Douglas (who was retiring in 1990) and dispatched someone to convince Sir Roger to stay on. One Helen Elizabeth Clark it seems. It was focused on the 4th not 5th Labour Government, but there was passing reference to how Clark and Cullen voted to privatise Telecom and never raised a voice in opposition in Cabinet.

Bassett has interviewed many of his former colleagues for the book, including even Helen Clark for the anti-nuclear section. There is no doubt he is no longer a supporter of Labour under Clark, but I think people would be silly to dismiss the book on that basis – he has been a writer of history for many decades, and the rarity of having an insider write a book on how Government actually works should make it required reading for pol sci students.

I was fortunate enough to have a dinner a few years back with Michael, and his knowledge of NZ political history is extensive – the dinner and discussion went on for six hours, with conversations ranging from Seddon and Massey to Jim Anderton!

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