David Lange was a good man with a sharp mind, he was quick as a cat thinking on his feet – especially debating – he was an excellent communicator. With only six years’ parliamentary experience before becoming leader of the NZLP he was also the least experienced of all Labour’s twelve leaders to date. David Lange got eaten alive.
Lange oversaw the worst years of the Labour Party, where the parliamentary and party wings grew further and further apart and bitter factional rifts and back-stabbings prevailed. His inability to manage his caucus opened the door for an unprecedented hijacking of the Party’s ideological compass by neo-liberals, and Lange eventually became an unwilling puppet for the more experienced but less principled old-hands behind him.
As a sensitive man Lange didn’t handle the awful pressure and toxicity of the leadership and paid a heavy emotional and physical toll. He left Parliament a pretty broken man. It wasn’t a good experience for him, for the Labour Party, or the people Labour represent.
So will lucky number 13 be the newest ‘least experienced Labour leader’ or will we have learned the lesson?