Labour look back fondly to when they were united in purpose under Helen

Labour MP Grant Robertson, a former staffer to Helen Clark when she was Prime Minister, vividly recalls the rigours of prepping Clark for Question Time in Parliament.

“We had a saying, and I don’t know if she knows this, to ‘just download the whole internet’.

Clark is renowned for her attention to detail. It is one of the ingredients she has listed as critical for leadership success, saying to get success it was important to be well briefed.

In announcing her bid to be Secretary-General, Clark spoke of the leadership skills she had shown as Prime Minister, including in building consensus – or as she later later put it on Radio New Zealand, her “bringing people together skills”.

One of the examples she gave was of her time leading minority governments with support from variously, the Alliance, NZ First and United Future – and, to a lesser extent, the Green Party. But those skills got a workout much earlier than in 2008.

Though Clark may have pointed to her dealings with coalition partners as evidence of her ability to bring together “disparate groups”, perhaps the starker example of that was her feat in bringing together the Labour Party itself.

Clark took over the reins of Labour in 1993 by rolling Mike Moore. After staring down a challenge from Moore’s supporters in May 1996, Clark managed the Herculean task of wrangling a very divided caucus to win in 1999. She began by promoting the same people who had called on her to step down into high positions in caucus – Michael Cullen was made deputy leader, Annette King was given more responsibility. “It would be fair to say those of us who did challenge her became her closest allies in Government,” King says.

Discipline set in with stability.

King recalls that after the 1996 election, “The stability in the caucus became real. She stepped out of the shadow of Mike Moore in 1996 and showed what she had as a leader. The respect for her leadership was accepted by the whole caucus. From that time on to 2008 she had the most united caucus of any I have been in.”

In the same breath as praising Clark, Robertson and King make it abundantly clear that today’s Labour party is nothing like it.

Another poll with Labour in the 20s and a preferred prime minister in single digits who is being reined in by Ardern, and they will be back to having to run the time and distance strategies of picking a new leader before 2017 or leaving Little in place to let him take the fall like Cunliffe did.

A smart aspiring future Labour leader has about 6-12 months left to put in the groundwork behind the scenes.


– Claire Trevett, NZ Herald


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  • Jude

    There is no one in Labour capable of taking on the leadership role. I suspect that Labour are relying on the fact that some will be ” tired” of a National led government. We already hear the slogans of ” arroganr” and ” rich mates” being bandied about .
    However, trying to convince those,saddled with the massive debt of student loans, that Labour bribed their way to power with last time, will be no easy task.
    People now , have woken up to the fact that nothing is free.
    “Show us the money” has been a valuable lesson , learnt by all.

    • OneTrack

      Except the Labour Party. UBI, how much will it cost and who will pay for it? They have no idea to either question.

      • Jude

        I know! Even Labour diehard supporters are struggling with that one.
        Polucy on the hoof with no costing is doomed to fail.
        I do not think Labour as a party is coping with a technology , educated , voting public.
        They get caught out themselves so often, an embarrasment for a party, planing ” The future’ of work “for us all?

  • biscuit barrel

    Interesting that my observations of Keys success, is that he is light on having all the detail.
    The results show his way is better, as of course the knowing the detail gets so big it just snows you under.
    Thats the public wants from their PM, someone who is on top of everything, not under all the details. And of course when his recollection differs from someone elses ‘facts’ they must be wrong.

  • Kevin

    “She began by promoting the same people who had called on her to step down into high positions in caucus”

    That sounds like something straight out of “The 48 Laws of Power”.

    The problem with Labour is that they believe sticking to your principles is more important than obtaining power. National collapsing aside, so long as Labour believes that, they will always be an opposition party.

    • rua kenana

      On one occasion Walter Nash, who was Labour Prime Minister 1958-60, was asked what he would do if there was a policy he strongly disagreed with, but was sufficiently popular with voters (that’s what they call “populist” isn’t it?) to get or keep him in power.
      His response was (said to be) that he’d adopt the policy, because all of the other good things he (claimed he) could do in power would outweigh any bad from the policy.

  • cows4me

    It’s hardly been united when you are scared crapless of stepping out of line. Fear ruled the socialists,now it’s just good old stupidity.

    • OneTrack

      As always,the lefties need a strongman to tell them what to do – Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Clark, …

      • rua kenana

        And Pinochet, Franco and so on. And sometimes those needing a strongman to tell them what to do are called Christians.
        And it’s funny that those accused of wanting to emulate Hitler are these days called right-wing extremists, (often xenophobic neo-nazis as well) not lefties.
        I would think genuine dictatorship bothers about neither right nor left.

  • rexabus

    It’s probably my memory playing tricks on me but david the messiah cunliffe almost starting to seem ok compared with Andy now. With his enormous ego and habit of saying really stupid things at least he was always good for a laugh

    • Rick H

      Andy should grow some bushy eyebrows and live in a trash can.
      That is who he has become – Andy the Grouch.

  • Keanne Lawrence

    Naturally Robbo was happy under Clark as it saw him part of The Sisterhood where he remains with King the squawky relic.
    Power for Clark was only achievable by massive bribes that people are starting to understand that not only had to be paid for by the taxpayer then but well beyond Clark’s reign.

  • Mick Ie

    In the current climate, is ‘A smart aspiring future Labour leader ‘ called a juxtaposition?
    Just like National, Labour will need outsource their new leader. All the current hopefuls have no real life experience and too much history of not doing anything worthwhile.
    Continuing to recycle the same names for the leadership, whilst not presenting any intelligent policies, will practically gift the 2017 and possibly 2020 election to the right.

  • Keyser Soze

    Unfortunately for Labour, Little is no Clark.