Roughan on Clark

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Through the latter half of the 20th century it became evident that National was this country’s “natural” government. Labour would be given an occasional turn but National was the default setting.

This was the state of politics Helen Clark set out to change when she came to power at the Century’s end.

And she did. There is absolutely no way the National is the natural party of Government. Of course MMP is a factor in this also.

For six years she would take no political risks. She followed the political studies textbook, doing no more or less than she had promised at the election, suspending ministers at the first whiff of embarrassment, returning media calls, making sure her decisions were understood.

Those decisions, if not exactly courageous, were usually in accord with common sense and her answers to interviewers were invariably concise, informative and fairly convincing.

I note that Roughan talks about her first six years as different to her last three. I have often said the third term Helen was very different to the first two terms.

But she fell short of greatness for me. She lacked a largeness of spirit that truly great leadership requires. At one level that deficiency could be seen in her response to the suggestion that Sir Roger Douglas could be “our greatest living New Zealander”.

He is not that either, for different reasons, but now that she has rescued Labour from his legacy her comment could have been more generous – as generous as John Key was to her nomination.

Indeed, and when was the last time you heard John Key denigrate an opponent?

Waitangi asks a lot of political leaders. They will not be feted there until they have had the courage to front up to whatever might happen. Helen Clark would not, could not.

She claimed she would not risk the dignity of her office but that was not the real reason.

Well there were so many reasons. Such as not being a morning person as a reason not to attend the dawn service.

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