Monday, August 4, 2008

David Lange

Today would have been David Lange’s 66th birthday. I think
of him often, because in researching Helen Clark’s political
career I inevitably come across a great deal of information
about Lange, who as a Prime Minister was unusual to the
point of being freakish. Simply put, he was not really a
politician in the regular sense of the word. He wasn’t really
a leader either, but circumstance thrust him onto the stage
to play the king when he probably would have been better
off as the prince. But after its third election defeat in a row,
in 1981, Labour needed a more ebullient and inspirational
leader than Bill Rowling, and Roger Douglas and his cohort
needed a big-talking salesman for their economic policies—
and Lange met the job specifications. Poor sap. It probably
hastened his premature end. But as Jim McLay and Mike
Moore well know, when a party desperate for a leader taps
your shoulder and says ‘You next,’ it’s almost impossible to
refuse: you just have to hope that the timing is lucky for
you. In their cases, it wasn’t; in Lange’s, it was—but only in
the sense of winning elections and waltzing into office. For
him personally, just being Foreign Minister was fulfilling
enough. In fact, he would have been a wonderful Foreign
Minister in the present government, had things fallen out
differently. I’m still reading Michael Bassett’s book on the
Lange years so won’t comment yet on his much-publicized
thesis that Margaret Pope bent Lange to her evil will. Let
me just say for now that all leaders are influenced more
than we can ever know by spouses, lovers, friends, close
advisers, and they wouldn’t be human if they weren't.
Who knows—10 years from now, someone might write a
book purporting to show that Jim Bolger was a mere
pawn in the hands of the Svengali-like Richard Griffin.


Will de Cleene said...

I'd give Bob Clarkson's left testicle for Dick Griffin's autobiography.

Steve Withers said...

The Silver Fox will have some stories to tell one day.....if he dares.

Anonymous said...

It was often assumed, I suspect correctly, by overseas dignitaries the distinguished looking Dick Griffin was the PM and Jim Bolger his minder. So if Griffin was the real PM over that period I look forward to the book which reveals how Jim Bolger was manipulating Dick Griffin.