What should Clark do?

Written By: - Date published: 11:10 am, November 18th, 2008 - 28 comments
Categories: activism, helen clark, labour - Tags:

There’s a lot of talk about Helen Clark leaving Parliament in a year or so to head for an international role. While Clark would obviously be more than capable of performing well at that level, I would prefer to see her do something completely different.

Labour needs to build its membership and its connections with the communities of South and West Auckland in particular. It is a disgrace that they are losing seats and party vote support in the heart of working class New Zealand. Labour needs to rebuild itself as the people’s party and build the popular demand for an improved social democracy. I would like to see Clark, MP for Mount Albert, lead that effort.

Now, some will say that if Labour has lost some connection with the working class it is the fault of Clark and her top-down leadership style. And I think there’s some truth to that. Certainly the Fifth Labour Government failed to take its opportunity to build political consciousness, public demand for improved social democracy. But she is still the person for the job of fixing that. She has the mana, she has the leadership and organisational skills. We also saw in the final days of the campaign that underneath the tough exterior, underneath the ‘strong leader’ image, that Clark needed to win and keep her positions as Labour leader and PM there is still an idealist very much connected to her social democratic principles.

Such a role might not have the profile of a senior UN position but it is just as important. If Labour can build and extend its base, raise the political consciousness of the working class, our social democracy will be protected against whatever populist rubbish the Right can throw at it. Now, that would be a truly great legacy for Clark.

28 comments on “What should Clark do?”

  1. Carol 1

    I think Labour does need to rebuild its base as you outline. But I think Clark can do more good in an international role. I think her support for a UN direction towards a Green New Deal, perhaps in line with some of the direction the US takes under President Obama, will be good for the world, and indirectly for NZ. This could also help in a positive but indirect way for Labour, taking the same direction, while re-building its grass-root support.

  2. I think Aunty Helen would fit in with the UN, she should be given a plane ticket to New York right away.

  3. Joe Blogger 3

    Just leave.

    I don’t care where she goes or what she ends up doing but the sooner she leaves the country the sooner the Labour Party can begin repairing the damage she and her inner circle has inflicted upon the party’s supporters.

  4. Stephen 4

    Dunno bout carting Clark around south and west auckland…you seem to discount any possibility that Labour lost seats because people didn’t like the Labour/Clark combination…? I know you have anecdotal evidence that people didn’t really feel like voting Labour ‘just cos’, but still. If she does do that, her first job might be to explain to people what the hell ‘social democracy’ is.

    She’d do a fine job overseas, if so inclined. One thing one can’t argue with is how well she has handled herself and represented NZ overseas.

  5. Ianmac 5

    Joe and Brett: Sounds like you are suffering from fear and doubt. Mostly ex-Prime Ministers fade away after losing the Benches, and you add credence to the belief amongst most New Zealanders that Helen is still a credible powerful and respected person.
    W’da’ya scared of?

  6. MikeE 6

    As much as I don’t like Clark’s policies there is no doubt in my mind that she has an immense love for New Zealand and would always go into bat for the good of the country on the international stage.

    I think the international stage option is good for NZ, your suggestion is potentially good for the Labour party. You make the assumption that what is good for the labour party is good for NZ, which might not be the case.

    NZ would be far better off if she chose an international posting, similar to that that Mike Moore or others have done in the past. Above all though, the choice should be hers, she has earn’t a well deserved break.

  7. Felix 7

    Well if all these righties want her to leave…

  8. gingercrush 8

    Interesting idea, certainly has its merits. Don’t wish to talk about Helen Clark since its a good idea but I can’t see it happening. But its the other stuff you mentioned. That being rebuilding membership and connections. Which I think is really pivitol.

    South Auckland except for Maungakiekie went to Labour. Maungakiekie has had some major electoral shifts and much of it went into areas that typically vote National. So while its a seat Labour can win, I suspect its a seat that if largely stays in the same area, will swing left to right depending on who looks to be leading the polls.

    Mangere the real problem was a significant drop in voter turnout. Manukau East and Manurewa also was plagued by drops in voter turnout. Therefore, South Auckland is an area where you have to get people to go out and vote. In 2005 they came out largely in fear of what a Don Brash led National would deliver. 2008 its likely that Key wasn’t someone to be feared like Don Brash and National looked far more likely to form a government and as such the voters decided not to vote. Critically though, that meant Labour lost more votes and thus they could not even come up with the numbers to form a government.

    Waitakere too had a seemingly smaller voter turnout compared to 2008. It went to the right this time but not by much. Some suggestions were made over talkback and the mass media that the anti-smacking bill upset voters there. Such an argument I would suggest is too simplistic. I don’t know West Auckland very well at all. Is there a shift in who is living there? Are the demographics more conservative? In 2005 Labour won that electorate but its an electorate that I though had a real chance to turn blue in 2008. In fact I’m quite surprised but my opinion of what was likely to happen between 2005 and 2008 turned out to be rather accurate. Its the same idea Manning over at the news website Scoop also had.

    New Lynn and Te Atatu however were complete surprises and I did not expect those electorates to have National leading the party vote. Its not an area I know terribly well so I’m not quite sure what type of people live there. They don’t seem to necessarily have the same values as South Auckland but still looks to be working class suburbs.

    So I certainly agree with your assertion that in West and South Auckland Labour needs to engage much more in its people.

    But where I have problems is that you center on West and South Auckland and don’t look at other more significant electorates.

    South Auckland is not going blue its a matter of getting people out to vote. West Auckland does seem to be having slight shifts to the right but I don’t think is yet in danger for Labour.

    I think there are questions over certain electorates in Auckland city itself. Those being Mt. Roskill, Mt. Albert and Auckland Central. Two of those went blue. Now one reason I argue Mt. Roskill did not go more blue was due to the strength of Phil Goff. Had he not been there I would think that would have been a much larger swing to the right. Likewise without Helen Clark being the electorate MP for Mt. Albert, there’s a question as to how that could shift to the right. Auckland Central in terms of red/blue went blue. But if you look at Labour-Green and National-Act votes. Labour-Greens are ahead by 2000 and that surely should increase with the special votes counted. So its not an electorate that went to the right. But I dont think its an electorate where Labour would want to lose the party vote to National. Those three electorates can expect further changes in the future when Helen Clark and Phil Goff eventually go and right now I would say its shifting right.

    But more critically I think is Christchurch. Christchurch you saw National swallow up large chunks of votes in Christchurch Central and Wigram. Ilam extended to the right. Port Hills went to the right. Waimakariri went to the right. And even in the more solid Labour electorate of Christchurch East significantly closed up with a difference of just 4000 votes. Christchurch has working class elements but is a complete different city than South and West Auckland. There isn’t a huge Maori population nor are there many Pacific Islanders. There’s a number of Asians and Indians however. I’m not sure what you could do in Christchurch. But to ignore Christchurch which is growing pretty fast and has become New Zealand’s second largest city is something that could do significant damage to Labour in the future. Also potentially in the long-term due to new housing developments Wigram could prove to become blue. Port Hills and Christchurch Central have a few areas that are set to really start pushing out working class homeowners.

    Dunedin and Wellington have shown that they continue to and will always be Labour unless a complete catastrophe takes place. Likewise,while you didn’t win the vote in Hamilton. I still see Hamilton as largely swinging left/right depending on who is leading. But at the same time I think Hamilton may ever slightly be shifting towards the right.

    But Labour’s most pressing issue are the provinces. North to South they went Blue. And while some like Clutha-Southland, Kaikoura, Rangitikei, Taranaki-King Country you expect to go blue there are several electorates that shouldn’t be that Blue and really should be red.

    Nelson and Invercargill both went blue this time. Invercargill is extending out and included areas such as Riverton and due to population growth is likely to extend further into Southland so its got potential long-term problems for Labour. Nelson if you crunch the numbers Labour-Greens got about 500 votes more than National. Suggesting its still likely to tend red and certainly centre-left. But likewise there is a chance shifting boundaries may bring in more National supporters.

    Other electorates where I think the party votes should be much closer if not red would be: Napier, New Plymouth, West Coast-Tasman, East Coast and Rotorua.

    The provinces are pointing to increasingly favour the right.


    Yes South Auckland and West Auckland are critical to the long-term success for Labour and ultimately the centre-left. But to ignore Christchurch, Auckland City and certain provinces in the North and South and you’re looking at real potential long-term problems.

    And for that it needs more than an inspiration leader such as Helen Clark. It means real grass-root organisations and different ideas and policies that are not just about the working class. Especially when Urban working class are very different to other blue collar workers.


    I know I’m often just talking about National and Labour and not thinking about voting blocs. Those being centre-right and centre-left but besides a few electorates the Greens and Act votes don’t make much difference.

  9. gobsmacked 9

    Clark should do whatever she wants. She owes the Labour Party nothing. She did more in nine years than Labour managed in the previous fifty.

    Labour voters will return because of what this government does, and because Goff is smart enough to know when to hit and when to hold off. National will lose 10% in the polls in six months, and never regain that support.

  10. Kerry 10

    Im torn somewhat……i think what you suggest is perfect for the future of the Labour party…but wonder whether it would be enought for Helen.

    Either way she was a person of morals and a bloody good leader…both of which we dont have under this shonk Nat/Maori/Act/United Future government with old “ï’ll say anything and smile at anything to be your PM Keys”.

    Shallow as puddles whose right wingers…..

  11. I have no fear or doubt, I just think Aunty Helen would fit in perfectly with the UN, it’s her type of people.

    Where else would she go? and what else would she do?

  12. gingercrush 12

    gobsmacked sorry but where do you see that 10% coming from? 2005 election Labour/Greens won 46% of the vote. 2008 Labour/Greens won 40%.

    2005 National ran a right-wing campaign and the left here including you are saying National is exactly that this year. But then a 10% can’t be possible. Even if you include those who chose not to vote and would have voted Labour/Greens you’re still missing about 2%.

  13. gobsmacked 13


    Lose 10% = National 35%, give or take.

    5% is natural drop-off, from people who just projected their own vague wishes onto the ballot paper. It happens to most incoming governments. It’s even more likely to happen when the Change message is so soft, that reality can’t hope to match it.

    5% is the economy. And lose an extra 5% if they stuff up badly on presentation and disunity (I think they probably will, but I’ve generously left that out of my numbers!).

  14. gingercrush 14

    I don’t really see how that works. And you haven’t included the change in leadership within Labour. Helen Clark always polled better compared to what Labour polled as a party. I’m not saying Goff and King are going to do much damage to Labour. I don’t expect much change. But I have to believe at least some Labour supporters remained loyal due to the Helen Clark factor.

  15. Felix 15


    I think National ran a fairly left-wing public campaign (by promising to keep most of Labour’s policies and programs) with a simultaneous right-wing dog whistle campaign (hinting that they’d prefer to get rid of many of those policies given half a chance).

    The question is who do they stay true to – the traditional right-wing or the “Labour Plus” voters?

    I don’t see how they can maintain the support of both groups.

  16. gingercrush 16

    Well where are the traditional right-wing meant to go?

  17. gobsmacked 17


    Well, time will tell. We’ll discuss it in six months!

    John Key, yesterday: “We have to do more with less and that is the practicality of the economic circumstances we face. Every minister in my government has to front up to that.”

    This was not the message to voters before November 8. He didn’t “front up” himself. Now he has to deal with the consequences of raised expectations, for which he is personally responsible.

  18. randal 18

    I read your material but there is never any conclusion
    are you just filling in space or do you have something positive to contribute
    ditch the waffle and lets hear it

  19. I know I would be very proud were Helen to be in a senior position in the UN, after all we’re going to need someone decent representing us what with Murray McCully just being appointed Foreign Affairs Minister.

  20. Felix 20


    “Where are the traditional right-wing meant to go?”

    That is exactly my point – they go further to the right, to ACT – and giving ACT more power pulls National further to the right thus alienating the “Labour Plus” voters.

  21. gingercrush 21

    We’ll see though good point.

    The left thinks John Key and the National-led government has gone too far to the right and not nearly as moderate as they claimed to be. Thus they are questioning why mass media are ignoring what this government is doing. The right generally thinks so far Key is doing a job well done and some Act supporters are having orgies.

    And the ones who swing left/right are so far a mystery. Do they fall asleep after an election or keep following things?

    I only know one person who changed their party vote this time. Went from Green to Progressive. Reason was Kiwibank. We tend to forget Kiwibank was Anderton’s project.

  22. the bean 22

    god I am with gobsmacked on this one! Steve, I normally think you are pretty spot on but in this instance I have to strongly disagree.

    Firstly let Helen, and Peter for that matter, get on with the rest of their lives minus large burden of Labour party. I am sure Helen will always be involved in some capacity but she needs to move on to doing something totally different where she won’t have the abusive crap that has been leveled at her from some sectors in the electorate.

    Secondly the best way for Helen to retain her mana is to go gracefully- as she has- not to stick around and try to carry the Labour banner further. It is up to others in the party now and Helen shouldn’t sully her legacy by being a core organiser of a Labour renewal.

    Thirdly- and as already hinted at- reconnecting and renewing should be done by the new base (or the old new base depending on who you are talking about). There is major talent at all levels of the party and it is time for the work to be done by others precisely to ensure the future of Labour. If Helen keeps doing everything then the young talent will lack exposure and experience once she really is gone.

  23. ak 23

    Right on, bean. Hels has sacrificed more, worked harder and achieved more real gains for kiwis than any politician in living memory, and her legacy and stature will ensure that she stays right up there with Michael Joseph for eternity.

    And her reward? The most vicious, filthy, unfounded media-abetted campaign of personal attack and demonisation ever seen in this country, coupled with relentless and traitorous back-stabbing from former friends – the Moores, Ralstons, Shadbolts, Woodhams, Tamiheres, and their craven, egotistical ilk – culminating in the abject failure of those she has worked so tirelessly for to even get off their arses and vote.

    Her disappointment at the public’s reaction to the disgusting Orewa One racism was palpable at the time: its tacit acceptance of the disgraceful low-level misogynic “nanny state” campaign and their willingness to replace her with a grinning lobotomised car salesman should convince her that it’s now time for Helen.

    More than any other kiwi right now, she owes this country nothing. Your talent and dedication will forever be acknowledged Hels, but right now we’re still insufficiently mature to deserve you. Go and enjoy yourself girl, you’ve earned it.

  24. randal 24

    I think she should hang around till the snap election next november when natoinal will bite the dust

  25. Akldnut 25

    Yeah I agree with Randal. She should just “Hang with the peeps” and step in to cleanup the mess with Goff and crew in 12 months or so.

    Why go overseas and cleanup shit for Nat after all the bs and spinning!!!

    Nah! stay home and have a break.

  26. Sarah 26

    Oh the UN can have her. Hopefully it’ll bring down both of ’em at the same time.

  27. Felix 27


    “And the ones who swing left/right are so far a mystery. Do they fall asleep after an election or keep following things?”

    Yeah I wonder that too.

    My feeling (and it’s just a feeling) is that swing voters are fairly apolitical most of the time and decide pretty late based on a range of emotional and brand-driven factors.

    Of course there are plenty who shift between Nat and ACT or between Labour and Green etc but those who actually swing between left and right surely can’t be too interested in politics generally.

    For example I heard tonight from a usually Labour voting friend who voted National for the reason that Helen Clark doesn’t have children. Whether she wasn’t aware of this salient fact at the last 3 elections or it suddenly became important to her I have no idea.

  28. Spectator 28

    Randal: don’t hold your breath waiting for an early election. Remember that turkeys don’t vote for an early Christmas. Unless Obama pulls off a financial miracle and staves off the looming recession in America, our economy will flounder along with theirs; and you can expect to see mass disaffection from people who notice that this Government will have promised much but delivered little.

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