Friday, May 1, 2009

The way it was

It was 20 years ago today that Jim Anderton left the
Labour Party—although, as I say in my book on Helen
Clark, a valid reading of history suggests that it had left
him some time before. Shortly afterwards, he founded
a party ironically called NewLabour—ironic, because it
represented everything ‘old’ Labour was supposed to
stand for—and set out on a rocky 10-year journey that
culminated in the formation of a Labour/Alliance
coalition government in 1999 and his becoming
deputy prime minister. Writing my book, I found it
hard not to reflect on the twin destinies of Clark and
Anderton, who spent most of their political
apprenticeship virtually joined at the hip, and then
split so spectacularly that for about 10 years they
expressed nothing but loathing and contempt for each
other. Either of them could have been prime minister;
it came down, you might say, to who had the greater
appetite for dead rats. Or was there a flaw in Anderton’s
nature that would always have stopped him from
reaching the very top? Many told me so, often in the
same breath as expressing their admiration for him. In
the end, almost karmically, if you care for that kind of
analysis, fate brought him and Clark together side by
side at the same cabinet table and for the next nine
years it was as if they’d never been parted.

Did ending up No 2 instead of No 1 embitter Anderton?
It seems not. He was remarkably philosophical about it
when I interviewed him earlier this year, but then, he's
been around a while and knows how to talk the talk. ‘In
any one day,' he told me—sententiously or sincerely, it
was impossible to tell— 'if you think about it for more
than five seconds, the chances of any one person
becoming Prime Minister of New Zealand are very remote.
You know, you’re run over by a bus, you lose an election at
the wrong time, or you win at the wrong time—whatever.
There are so many factors, that you’d be crazy if you put
your life on the line. Now I came as close as I could to that,
the way the chips fell. That was the way it was.’

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