Tracy Watkins at Stuff reports:
Seated across from each other in a New York restaurant they made for an unlikely couple.
On one side of the table was John Howard, one of Australia’s most successful prime ministers; darling of the political Right, bogeyman of the Left after taking the role as America’s deputy sheriff in the Pacific, and becoming the villain in the Tampa affair.
His lunch companion was Helen Clark, the socially liberal former New Zealand prime minister, a flag-flying Iraq war opponent, standard bearer for the Left-wing social democratic movement – and the woman who even now, four years on from losing the election, can spark visceral dislike among many on the Right.
Mates? Of course, says Howard, after they caught up recently for a chinwag in New York.
“We don’t just exchange Christmas cards.”
It reflects well on both Howard and Clark that they worked well together, despite being from different sides of the political spectrum.
But historic and geographical ties have not always been enough to put the relationship on a friendly footing. Before Howard and Clark it was Lange and Hawke, Muldoon and Fraser. Tension, backstabbing, and suspicion reigned.
Fraser was an idiot, and Muldoon a bully. Hawke thought Lange was a flake, and he was right. There was also Bolger and Keating – Keating was just simply untrustworthy.
Gillard and Key, again polar opposites politically, have forged even stronger bonds than Clark and Howard.
Key says getting the personal dynamics in the relationship right is “critical”. With Gillard, it helps that their partners get on as well.
Once all the official business was out of the way during their two-day summit in Queenstown last month, Key and Gillard escaped to the exclusive Millbrook resort for dinner with partners Bronagh and Tim. They did the same in Melbourne last year.
“We have a no officials, casual dinner, have a drink together,” Key said.
A good relationship between leaders is no guarantee of success, but it is almost a precursor.
The big unknown is a possible Tony Abbott government – though he and Key have already struck up a good relationship, and speak to each other regularly.
Howard, meanwhile, is confident Abbot can only be good for New Zealand.
“He’s got a good start. His wife is a New Zealander.”
Heh, that may be useful.