Herald on Helen

A fairly well balanced editorial:

Her talents and achievements are well documented in uniting Labour and finding a path of restraining free-market economics while overseeing strong growth, reduced debt and, for all but the final months, admirable fiscal discipline.

As is her peerless representation of New Zealand abroad, a leader of the highest intellect and international credentials impatient to keep this country relevant and connected.

A measure of success will be that the Clark Government’s signature policies will likely survive defeat. Her “fear” expressed on election night of Labour’s achievements being lost in a right-wing bonfire seemed smaller-minded and less confident of her legacy than a realistic commentator would offer.

By winning three elections she did tilt the centre towards the left successfully.

She was simultaneously the best and worst thing going for her party, and its chief strategist for this election. On both strategic and tactical levels she contributed to the “time for a change” mentality that will deliver power to her rival, John Key. This last term Labour blurred in its own mind its interests as a private political party and those of the public. From the beginning, the intransigence over repaying the $800,000 of taxpayers’ money unlawfully spent on the 2005 election for the “pledge card” set a tone of retaining power above all. Things worsened rather than improved after that scandal. The result was the malignant Electoral Finance Act which, stripped of all artifice, was aimed at preventing Labour losing power.

The Electoral Finance Act will be one of the biggest millstones to her legacy. Not just the Act per se, but the way it was done – shattering any bipartisan co-operation over electoral issues. The damage from this, is yet to be fully realised.

Helen Clark’s uncharacteristic failure to read correctly the court of public opinion on Winston Peters and his party’s litany of political abuses has received its jury verdict.

In sticking with New Zealand First to save itself, Labour was guilty by association, guilty on all counts, with no recommendation for mercy. When governments see power as an end in itself rather than a means to an end, voters usually withdraw it.

Making the election campaign about “trust” was another error. While the word stuck, and was thus a successful touchstone for voters, it perversely made them think about many minor issues on which Labour had lost trust. Running a campaign which until the final leaders’ debate was universally negative on the opponent must surely call into question the Prime Minister’s acumen. Sanctioning, if not “running”, the fatal tactical move of trawling 20-year-old Australian court records of a major fraud to discredit Mr Key showed a hollowness unheard of in the early years.

Never has an election campaign been so negative or personal. Think I am exaggerating. Name any other election campaign where every single television advertisement was negative? Not a single positive advertisement? And then think again if you can recall when 100% of the negative ads were not attacking on policy, or on a party’s record, but targetting the leader personally as untrustworthy. The ads in themselves were not the most negative we have seen – in fact far from it. But to run an entire campaign of nothing but negative attacks aimed personally at the Opposition Leader is unheard of – and it is a good thing it did not work – in fact backfired.

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