Encore David Lange


I can remember growing up in the 80’s and being vaguely familiar with something called politics. It only ever really hit home in any meaningful sense when my father was busy ejecting Labour voters from one of our BBQ’s one night after I’d been sent to bed, or that time when he threw one of his work boots through the Telly during an election advertisement.

I asked him about that a few years later and he said ‘I didn’t throw it, I lobbed it.’

So there was a bit of tension around back then just as there is these days. My mother was always a staunch Leftie and used to take me on all the marches like the Springbok tour and the anti-nukes stuff. I sometimes wonder what she would think of things these days if she were still alive.

But I guess my main point of focus as a kid was an overweight joker on T.V. wearing glasses who used to go on about Nuclear disarmament and what little old New Zealand was going to do about it.

Lange always struck me as being quite a likeable chap. The sort of personality that as a young and impressionable fella I trusted.

How wrong I was.

But you can’t expect a kid to know all the ins and outs when it comes to Government policy and the inevitable effects it has on people.

To be fair the fourth Labour Government was on a bit of a hiding to nothing when it was voted in and handed the responsibility of dealing with an economy that was in need of serious fundamental adjustment.

Gone were the days of guaranteed trade and relatively low oil prices. The days when we had almost virtual full employment with very little crime. No shops opening on Sundays and a close to 60% personal tax rate.

When I think of the New Zealand Governments management of our economy from an entirely centrally planned one to one which was trying to embrace the tenets of the free market, I can’t help but picture an old beat up wagon desperately trying to get up a bit of speed on the on-ramp before merging into the incredibly unpredictable and fast-moving traffic of international wheeling and dealing. Not quite fast enough, or perhaps too fast. It’s hard to tell but something went drastically awry.

The speed of de-regulations that occurred in those first few years of Lange’s reign was truly staggering. A nation which was the first to embrace the welfare state back in the thirties also being one of the first to embrace the free market.

Looking up at the evening news as a kid I kept seeing farmers crying due to having to walk off land which had been in their families for generations as interviewers asked them ‘so how does this make you feel then?’

And then we had the Nuclear Free issue.

In hindsight what better way for Labour to shore up support after they had been busily stabbing the working person in the back for their first few years in power. Pick a subject which will be guaranteed to stir up a bit of nationalistic fervour and well-meaning sentiment in the electorate and hang on for the ride.

The inevitable international backlash against this disastrous policy was felt most keenly of course by the poorest members of our society as they are always the ones that get it in the neck when the economy goes south.

And what did the anti-nuke policy achieve? I’m sure the Pinkoes out there would have a lot to say regarding this but at the end of the day a sense of ‘wellness’ and increased self-esteem for the Champagne Socialists in Wellington doesn’t make much difference to a struggling family whose working parents have been cast adrift by a Government who never really seemed to be able to make a decision either way.

And this is perhaps what Lange will be best remembered for. His vacillation. One of the worst kinds of leaders, the one who can never make a decision. A leader obsessed with being loved by the masses and never being prepared to make a call that, while unpopular, is in the population’s long-term best interests.

The free market economic reforms started by Labour were needed but unfortunately, in my opinion, were never allowed to be fully implemented at a pace and degree which were required to manage things as smoothly as possible.

Lange’s reaction to the short-term hurt being felt by people was to lose his bottle and also lose faith in the overall plan which Roger Douglas had fought so long to implement. It wasn’t helped by Lange’s inability to grasp economic basics and his ability to extract himself from situations of responsibility by his charismatic charm and rapier wit.

In the end, a lot of people got hurt, too many really when you consider how things could have been managed.

The ridiculous virtue signalling with the anti-nuke policy lost us a lot of friends and trade and I would argue had a negligible influence on the global arms race between the superpowers. The causes for the end of the Cold War were complicated and far-reaching and were ultimately decided by social and economic trends which had begun long before New Zealand’s decision to refuse to play with anyone and go off and sulk.

When I look at our current Prime Minister I see a lot of similarities with Lange. A career politician whose main interest is in being well liked by her supporters. Someone who is perhaps overly reliant on advice from others. And someone who is a leader at a time in our nation’s history when sober-minded judgement and foresight is most important, not appeasing the narrow-minded toxic cult of sentimentality whose cries, while being the loudest, certainly are not a reflection of the realities which most New Zealanders live under every day.


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