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Right desperate to sully Clark legacy

Written By: - Date published: 10:41 am, February 8th, 2009 - 39 comments
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clark-and-flagWhen John Key was elected he was wise enough to be magnanimous in victory, acknowledging Helen Clark’s considerable skill and integrity throughout her term as one of our longest serving Prime Ministers.

Since that time however, Key’s underlings have begun another death by a thousands cuts campaign – this time on the public’s memory and perception of Clark’s time in office. They know Clark is just too popular and too highly respected by too many people to just come out with an overt slime campaign, so instead they manufacture mealy-mouthed oblique back-handers that do their best to sound balanced and reasonable without sounding like it’s just outright sour grapes.

Like Farrar’s “I have generally regarded Clark as an able political administrator – as have most of the public…. But I do have some concerns. To me the pre 2005 Helen Clark is different to the post 2005 Clark. I’m not sure what happened, but somewhere along the way Helen seemed to lose her previously reliable judgement.” Or Roughan’s “Clark good but not great”, a tragic Herald attempt to devalue Clark winning the Herald’s “Greatest Living New Zealander” poll. Or National’s backtracking about how Labour had managed the economy competently, but somehow accruing surpluses during times of prosperity in preparation for leaner times ahead was “irresponsible”. There are many more examples, but for a quick reference just skim through the lines being attempted by our resident trolls.

With 1000 Cuts campaigns it’s not about one king PR hit – each cut in itself seems fairly innocuous – it’s about sowing seeds of doubt then repeating the memes often enough that audiences start to assume they are true. They erode their targets slowly but inexorably.

So why can’t the right just leave Clark’s legacy be? Well, because they can’t afford to.

They know that in 30-odd months or so, the New Zealand public will be looking back wistfully at the Clark administration as a better time, with a PM that could always be trusted to be on top of her game, and trusted to lead with prudence and certainty – whether you liked her or not. In 2011 National can’t afford to be running against a party that gave New Zealand its greatest PM in living memory, especially when we’ll all have suffered a lot more economic hardship by then. For all his talents, Key’s dithering and inexperience against a backdrop of increasing social and economic turmoil won’t compare well to a nostalgic memory of Clark and Labour.

So for the right those memories really need to be poisoned before they take root. Expect a lot more revisionist histories from the right in the coming months and years.

39 comments on “Right desperate to sully Clark legacy ”

  1. sweeetdisorder 1


    Are you really saying the 2011 election is going to be about the ghost of Helen Clark’s term as PM vrs National? So, you don’t really think the current Labour lot is much chop then if all they will do is hark back to the days of HC? Goff will utter nothing for the next 30 months but why everything was better under HC.

    Great game plan guys. See you in 2017 when you get tired of being in opposition and decide to go to the people on actual ideas.

  2. Felix 2

    Are you really saying the 2011 election is going to be about the ghost of Helen Clark’s term as PM vrs National?

    Are you really saying it won’t be an element?

  3. I think Helen will be among people like her at the UN, and wont be factor, if the world comes out of this crisis, the sitting Government will get back.

  4. felixthehousecat 4

    Felix, your rapier wit wins the argument, again.

  5. pdr 5

    First time I’ve commented here – but I think you’re over reading the situation wildly.

    I don’t think “the right” is desperate to do anything positive or negative to Clark’s legacy and that their view is pretty much along the line of Keys comments on her …. something along the lines of being a well respected PM and a patriotic NZer .. and from their interactions since the election they appear to actually get along pretty positively.

    I really think your chasing shadows on this.

  6. Nick C 6

    Or maybe the individual commentators are just stating their own opinion and arent a part of some vast right wing conspiricy to destory Clarks reputation?

  7. Daveski 7

    You make a reasonable point about the right (or at least some) trying to downplay Clark’s legacy. However, like a number of others here, you are just as guilty of sanctifying Clark.

    In many respects, she was a polarising figure not dissimilar to Muldoon. She was after all the best political operator since Muldoon.

    The NZH survey was not scientific – the election results more so.

    Sure Clark leaves a strong legacy in parts. In other parts (conveniently and consistently overlooked here), much less so. She let her own personality politics get in the way of building relationship with Maori. Even left wing commentators are commenting on the difference here.

    It’s hard to argue that Clark lost some of her mojo after 2005 – altho many here (as with your post) would see such a view as heretical. Her handling of Winston Peters alone shows that but wait for the revisionists to blame everyone but Clark.

    I’m NOT trying to damn Clark – I think she impressed all with her strength, leadership and intellect. She will fit in well at the UN. But the campaign to sanctify Clark and avoid any blemishes is nearly as bad as the KB campaign to denigrate her achievements.

  8. Felix 8

    Felix, your rapier wit wins the argument, again

    ??? It was a straightforward question. I see you trollin.

  9. IrishBill 9

    Sprout, while I agree the right desires to underplay Clark’s achievements I don’t think it’s by any means a concerted effort. Rather I think that a series of rightwing commentators have found themselves redundant in the face of a change of government and have shifted to their pre-election defaults.

    Their problem is that just as the left will have to cool its heels and wait for the honeymoon to finish with JK and co before they can start getting real traction on issues, any attempt to run down the opposition now is going to look stupid and mean. Quite a few right-wingers understand this (even DPF seems to have some basic sense of it) but when there’s column inches/posts to fill and they lack the imagination to take their argument elsewhere then they will continue to make these attacks.

    In dpf’s case the situation is compounded by the need to throw some meat to his dogs every so often for fear they permanently stray.

  10. felixthehousecat 10

    Don’t answer a Q with a Q Felix. Its bad manners eh bro.

    IrishBill: and you’re banned for a week.

  11. Mr Magoo 11

    Helen Clark was a brilliant politician. You can argue about whether you liked her or not, but it will never change that fact.

    Unfortunately the political game is not a nice one. Part of that is the fault of money and corruption, but a great part is simply the failure of our society – mainly in terms of apathy and greed. You cannot play nice and make it, it is just a fact. Idealists are punished with obscurity to the sound of a mocking media. (Look to the treatment of the greens for great examples of this in action – although I am not excluding them entirely from this net)

    In effect you do not rise to power without being compromised in some way along the way. Helen Clark was no different and it should not be held against her. I think her comment on the Lange/Roger situation in the past gives the best example I can think of:
    Helen Clark talking to Virginia Myers 1985:
    But I have a strong sense of self-preservation. I didn't come this far to be burnt out in a hail of gunfire.

    Now you can get on your wooden, armchair horse about how immoral this statement is and blah blah blah. But the reality is that had she not taken this line, most of us probably would not even remember her name. Most certainly she would never had made PM.

    If you want to achieve in politics you have to compromise. Your position (e.g. anything to do with Winston Peters), yourself (e.g. Lange/Anderton incident above) and even your party at times.

    This is because the alternative to getting most of what you want done is to get almost none of it done from a back bench or outside of parliment. While many people llike to delude themselves into pretending they live in a black and white world we do not. Relative morality IS the reality. Whether you acknowledge it or not you are certain to be using it everyday.

    The legacy of the last labour government is embodied by Helen Clark. When people go to the polls next, most will be comparing National’s term to the last political term. In fact this time it will be the only political term to draw comparisons from because it was SO LONG….
    To say that this will not be a factor is naive to the extreme. To say that the vast PR machine employed at great expense by National and Co. does not know this and is not doing something about it is just insulting to them.
    It may not be priority one of their plan, certainly not with managing all the fallout that this term will produce, but it will be in there.

    DISCLAIMER: I never voted for her or her party. Nor am I intending to in 2011 short of some sort of labour revolution which is about 99.9% unlikely.

  12. mike 12

    Turn the page lefties – hc was good for what she believed in, people got over her now shes gone. move on

  13. Clint 13

    Page is stuck, can only read 1999 – – 2008. Revisionist.

  14. rjs131 14

    “DISCLAIMER: I never voted for her or her party. Nor am I intending to in 2011 short of some sort of labour revolution which is about 99.9% unlikely.”

    Translation I vote Green

  15. higherstandard 15

    Who cares how Magoo votes – he’s dead on the money with his comment.

  16. Oxy 16

    You would think after your own “thousand cuts” smear campaign on John Key completely failed to fire you would realise the futility of such an effort. But no. Here you extol the virtues of ‘anything you can find’ co-ordinated smear campaign and in projecting it onto National reveal yourselves as the worst kind of conspiracy theorists: those who are trying to conspire amongst themselves and can’t help but believe those they smeared are doing the same.

    I think its about time to end “The Standard”. It has become a complete embaressment, without a single post of merit in several months.

    IrishBill: Why on earth do you think we care what you consider to be of merit? You can’t even spell “embarrassment”. Take a week ban for trolling/insulting the blog owners.

  17. marco 17

    Hmmm Oxy I was going to write something different until you jogged my memory. The very reason I didnt vote Labour was because I disagreed with their campaign of fear against John Key, they really alienated themselves from the public and showed how desperate they were to cling onto power.
    Complaining that the right are now doing the same thing is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black.
    Sprout you should perhaps lower the hipocrisy a little.

  18. Jimbo 18

    My own view is that it’s too early to talk about “Clark’s legacy”. Her legacy wasn’t “completed” when the last election was decided (good thing too – most of the electorate voted against her). We’ll only know what her legacy is when we see whether her policies work and/or survive the test of time.

  19. Adders 19

    “The very reason I didnt vote Labour was because I disagreed with their campaign of fear against John Key, they really alienated themselves from the public and showed how desperate they were to cling onto power.”

    Like National trying to make out Clark’s husband was gay? How desperate was that?

    How forgetful.

  20. Mr Magoo 20

    “DISCLAIMER: I never voted for her or her party. Nor am I intending to in 2011 short of some sort of labour revolution which is about 99.9% unlikely.’

    Translation I vote Green

    What’s funny is that you think this is a point worth making even if it were true.
    There is more than one left alternative and I am also Maori. I could also split votes.

    Of course as higherstandard has pointed out, my specific voting record does not validate or invalidate the points I made. The point of the disclaimer was merely to point out that I had not agreed with Helen or Labour to the point where I would vote for them at all and thus this was not motivated by blind devotion.
    On reflection it was probably redundant.

  21. Andy Freemand 21

    This is all very well and good. You have identified the techniques they’re going to use – so what will the left do to counter this?

    Nothing? Will we sit back and say, “Oh shit, we saw it coming and didn’t do anything.”

    Don’t just let the Tories set the agenda – you should use this forum to activate the left to change.

  22. Concerned of Tawa 22

    Oxy’s points about the double standards re Clark and Labours smear campaign against Key last year are completely valid and he receives a weeks ban.

    Any dissenting opinion on this blog is simply labelled trolling and promptly banned.


    [lprent: Read the Policy and figure it out. We ban for reasons – and they aren’t for having dissenting opinions. It pretty much comes down to acting like a dickhead with opinions that they cannot backup, attacking other commentators without having a point of argument, or attacking the people working on this site. Sometimes we will ban because someone is just a frigging nuisance to the moderators – they generate too much work. Generally anything that attempts to make this site deteriorate.
    If people want to do those kinds of things, then there are sites with comments sections dedicated to disruption.]

  23. Felix 23

    If you actually read Oxy’s comment and IB’s reply it’s very clear why he was banned and it’s nothing to do with dissenting opinion.

    Open your eyes, this blog is chock full of dissenting opinion.

  24. Chris G 24

    “Like National trying to make out Clark’s husband was gay?”

    Yeah or the NZ sucks campaign.. then upon taking office Key makes a youtube video in a salmon shirt harping on about how fantastic NZ is!

    We are a bit prone to amnesia arent we? The vid was unfortunately taken down.. pity I didnt download it.

  25. QoT 25

    CoT … at least five commenters have expressed disagreement on this very post and, stunningly, not been banned for their efforts. Of course, they could all be sockpuppets as yet undetected, but I doubt it.

  26. Tim Ellis 26

    I personally believe that Helen Clark has been the most masterful politician of her generation by a long degree. She dominated the Labour Party for the best part of two decades, and government for three terms. Among her own caucus and for a long time during her time in Parliament, she was peerless.

    But she also had some pretty major flaws, as all good leaders do. I pretty much agree with Magoo’s points in their entirety. Sure, some on the right want to demonise her and ignore her strong qualities, but that motivation is no less deserving than the attempts by some on the Left to deify her and ignore her weak points.

    I think she will make a strong contribution to the UN. I pity Phil Goff however. She has left him with a Party with no realistic leaders for the next ten years, and was such a driving force for the caucus in her own right that once she’s gone, he will never be PM.

  27. CH 27


    You have to remember that this place is run by card carrying commmies, labor party members and union officials. All of whom are very bitter that they no longer have an avenue to the levers of power.

    They have a very blinkered view of the world and in their own ways, at least as much as right wing religious fundies only their ‘religion’ is socialism, PC handwringing, anti-religious prejudice and central state control.

    IrishBill: and you have to remember that you comment as our guest on a server and site we pay for. Behave accordingly.

  28. Paul Robeson 28

    ahh Murray and CH… if we compare your ilk (Garrett, Hide and any number of the Nats depending on how well the gags are fastened..) to Helen it is only going to prove her legacy as one of the few genuine public servants New Zealand has had in the highest office.

    having just attended a church where the Kennedy assasination was attributed to a curse placed on him as a result of the sin of his father’s bootlegging during prohibition (a church with a congregation of around 800,000 you understand) I’ll take my chances with those who chose not to use this kind of logic to set government policies.

  29. vto 29

    I agree with Farrar, Clark is not one of NZ’s great PMs. She was certainly competent, but lost it at the end. Labour’s actual campaign of negativity and attack exemplified that lost nature.

    Sheesh Mr Irishbill, lots of banning. Seems like the authors and some posters can attack and abuse with reckless abandon, but cannot handle their own medicine in return.

    Kinda matches the actual thread..

  30. lprent 30

    vto: Look at it another way – great compared to whom? If you exclude sports-people (and I do) there really aren’t that many living great people around NZ, let alone great politicians dead or alive. It is a small country.

    Sure Helen isn’t a saint (and I’m sure that I know more about her flaws than most people). But the last really effective politician we had was Robert Muldoon. His heart was probably in the right place. But he was monumentally dangerous to our futures. That was more than 30 years ago.

    I never had much time for Lange because he wasn’t very competent. Holyoake was vaguely competent – but really didn’t do anything except avoid making decisions that had to be made. You have to look back to the 30’s and 40’s prior to that. Helen followed that policy of changing society incrementally and setting the pattern for the next 50 years. Even the Nat’s explicitly acknowledge that in their major policy – after all they are Labour-lite for a reason.

    Helen has been effective, worked toward a better future and got a good way towards it, and generally hasn’t screwed up in the long-term things that I value. The contrast to John Key with his meaningless phrases that he doesn’t seem to understand himself couldn’t be more striking.

    As for the banning. We’re getting the periodic influx of morons who don’t read the policy and think that they can just trash the place. We tend to run a pre-emptive strategy to educate them on their first troll-level comment.

    Clint Heine of course is a different matter. We tend to tolerate people with congenital deficiencies – in his case an inability to coherently form an argument.

  31. Kerry 31

    I think there are already a good number of people praying that Helen was still our PM.

    I mean, all you have to do is see an intervew with old John boy or see him disgracing himself by dancing under the influence on 1 news lastnight……disgraceful!

    The right wingers can bitch and moan all they like about helen…..but NZ will never have as good a leader as her so eat kaka right wing bum wipes!!!

  32. Kerry 32

    PS I would rather be a communist then a mental defective right wing extremist!

    Jealous Jealous Jealous cause the nats have a crap cabinat lineup and an embarrasing leader who as each week gos on shows himself to be more and more out of his depth!!!

    Helen was right…and we’ve thrown it all away on someone who wants to be everyones mate……..

  33. vto 33

    You’re right lprent re the incremental changes and changing the tack a little. Clearly there was a plan and it seems to have been implemented in a competent and complete-ish manner. Which is all good – thats what the voters returned.

    But as for her greatness, compared to our few ‘great’ PMs, I think she falls short. Mostly in visionary and charismatic leadership and in not really forging the country ahead – especially when she had such a wonderful and lucky economic climate. Her own plan, as you say one of ‘increment’, in fact precludes greatness such is its boringness.

    But hey that’s just my 2c. I think a few people think she is great because it is all quite recent and compared to the malaise any other parties were in pre-1999 and up to 2006/7 she stands out. That will fade once time starts to stretch out and comparisons become clearer.

  34. IrishBill 34

    vto, I’m tiring of trolls (left and right). Just ask the ‘sod, he’s on a five week ban.

  35. Tigger 35

    Kerry – you nailed it. Key wants to be our friend. Well you know what John, when you vote against Civil Unions and then turn up at the Big Gay Out dancing like someone’s drunk uncle then you deserve the name ‘two faced tosser’. You can’t spit on me and then try to shake my hand. Won’t work. Don’t like you. Don’t trust you.

  36. randal 36

    nice one sprout
    the fundamental basis to the national party has nothing to do with production or gdp or anything else except psychological domination of anyone or thing
    it would be physical domination but that is against the law
    natoinal will never have anyone of Helen Clarks stature because they only think about themselves and not the good of society as a whole
    fleas really

  37. What changed in 2005 was the right realized they weren’t going to win with any semblance of honesty. They really stepped up the character assassination, adhom attacks and lying, in part using dpf and the whales blogs.

    Any one else having a bit of a laugh recently with the kiwi bloggers trying to claim the left are nazi sympathizers? almost as if someone hit a nerve with them.

  38. nznative 38

    i hate to rain on your parade but clarke was not that flash from where I stand .

    But then again I see Nz politics like this :

    Labor = bad and rotten
    Natianal = plain evil

    Helen did some good …………… like keep us out of the Iraq invasion .

    But at the end of the day she was just another NZ politician

    …….. and when I go to the toilet I refer to it as ” going for a right honorable”

    Just because the natianals are WORSE than labor means you should get off your high horse .

    Clarke was no great new zealander

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