Graham Adams writes in The Listener:
There is a rooster that regularly announces its presence from beyond my back fence. When it started crowing one morning last week, I immediately thought of Helen Clark. I had just read that she had told Stuff journalists “heads would have rolled” if the Labour Party’s youth camp sex assaults had occurred on her watch because, under her leadership, “people didn’t keep their jobs”.She added that she wasn’t sure if she would have released the internal report but made it clear: “I would have handled it differently from the start.”
The inescapable implication of her comments was that Jacinda Ardern is either too weak, too nice, too inexperienced or too indecisive — or maybe a combination of all these failings — to be an effective PM faced with this sort of problem. And, of course, very unlike her tough and decisive Labour predecessor.
Not helpful as he points out:
As a journalist colleague emailed after reading the Stuff report: “I bet Ardern just loves having Clark back in New Zealand.”
While I’m all in favour of Helen keeping up the commentary. She’s in the media several times a week, at times. Probably in there more often than 80% of the Cabinet.
Clark continues to assert her toughness, time after time. When she faced off against Sir Ray Avery over his proposed charity concert at Eden Park in July, she boasted: “He’s probably picked the wrong person to try to bully in directly attacking me.”
And Clark’s high opinion of her own toughness extends now to claiming that she was too strong a personality for the UN to accept as Secretary-General. Stuff reported her saying her run at the top job was “stymied” because “four of five of the great powers didn’t want a strong personality type.”
It was a view she repeated to the NZ Herald’s Simon Wilson. Describing the run-up to the UN race, and the need to stand up to Russia, the United States and China, she said: “The tragedy is that the world is looking for leadership. We had some conversations as to whether I should present as not a strong leader. Pretend that I was an ineffectual person who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. But that wasn’t me.”
We are obviously meant to accept that Clark was the outstanding candidate to lead the UN but the international organisation was far too scared of her strong, outspoken personality to actually select her.
I don’t think Clark lost because she was too strong. I think she lost due to geopolitics.
In fact, rightly or wrongly, many of us who aren’t devotees of the Cult of Helen remember just how often she was frightened by a goose hissing at her in New Zealand. We remember her timid reforms to the Employment Contracts Act that saw the union movement further weakened under her watch; her backing away from the Closing the Gaps programme to lift Māori; and her blocking Māori from taking their case over the foreshore and seabed to the Māori Land Court. When thousands of protesters marched on Parliament, she would not leave her office to address the crowd, instead labelling them “haters and wreckers”.
Perhaps more than anything else, we remember her unwillingness to follow Jim Anderton’s lead when he was suspended from the Labour caucus for voting against selling the BNZ in 1989. Her famous line that she “hadn’t come this far to go down in a hail of bullets with Jim Anderton” was for many a vivid reminder of the narrow limits of her courage.
Pragmatism over principle.
Jacinda Ardern is much tougher than she looks — and her prime ministership is possibly going to be braver and more transformational than Clark’s ever was.
Jacinda has shown toughness. Her best moment came as she executed Metiria Turei and effectively forced her from the Green co-leadership. That took real steel.