Sunday, September 02, 2007

Man Of Our Times

Let's face it, Lange was a clown. Sometimes this was good. His showmanship and timing made the post-cabinet press conferences the best show in town for journalists. Sometimes this was bad. His need to be everybody's friend meant conflicts were resolved poorly. The Buchanan visit was an early example. Above all, Lange's love of the limelight was very useful. The clown made the perfect diversion. Cabinet kept Lange busy with speaking engagements, high media visibility stuff. This left the executive collective to concentrate on running government.

It worked for a while. The nuclear-free issue provided Lange with a subject he could sink his wit into, and an audience ready to listen. For two years, everything was sweet. While Lange chugged away abusing American Jesus Freaks with non sequiturs, consultation papers flew in and out of the Beehive. Laws were passed, things got done.

Tragedy struck in 1985, when David Lange's brain died. Joe Walding, the British High Commissioner, has passed on. Lacking Joe's sage counsel, Lange had nowhere to turn. He had alienated the Left bloc MPs, couldn't keep up with the economic jargon of those on the Right.
Lange turned to Margaret Pope and, as everyone knows, it went downhill from there. The clown wanted to be taken seriously.

So what's all this got to do with the price of iPods? Two things last week sparked a thought. Mike Moore's guerrilla noun attack on Clark for one. Muldoon! Octopus! Fridge magnet! Although Helen Clark is not Muldoon, she may share his some of his fate. Surrounded by a fearful, strung out, burnt-out caucus. The Electoral Finance Act (Clause 13o) will come into effect if writ day is after 1st March 2008, thereby leaving a snap election a distinct strategy to minimise the Labour party's electoral rout. All one has to do is wait for a Marilyn Waring to turn up.

Helen Clark may have also done her job too well. Having successfully killed off most of the Right wing of the Labour party, she may very well be guaranteeing her party a very long time on the opposition benches until a new equilibrium comes along.

And secondly, Colin James' quiet insistence on Key's stance on a New Zealand Head of State:

Key is of the post-independence generation. His generation takes independence as an unremarkable given.

Key's generation, even if not Key himself, is more culturally Pacific than Clark's but also more confidently able to reconnect with the British/European side of its heritage after the necessary distancing during the independence decades. Its members are more educated than the independence generation and more footloose, especially to bigger outlier Australia outside the front door.

Those who choose to stay here still live in an outlier country, as have all generations going back 10 centuries, and globalisation of capital, money and people, if anything, accentuates that outlier quality. And symbols of colony linger. Clark's generation did belatedly repatriate the highest court four years ago but it has bequeathed to Key's generation an English Queen as head of state, a flag with Britain's flag on it, a name that ties us to a flat bit of northern Europe and a national anthem that prays for God to save us instead of standing tall on our own feet. We are still a wingless, flightless bird.

How will Key the returned expatriate, still playing catchup to some of the cultural changes, deal with all that? His external policy essentially mimics Clark's, with some fine-tuning. Some in his party are plotting legislation to disestablish the monarchy on Queen Elizabeth's death. There are attempts in his party at new thinking on the aspirations of iwi and hapu to bring the two indigenisations into synch.

The thought is this: If National are looking for a populist issue on par with Lange's anti-nuclear stance, Key could do far worse than outbid Labour in the National Identity stakes and seek a Kiwi Head of State. Sure, it's not as sexy as No Nukes, but try opposing the policy. The Greens would go for it. Whatever monarchists still lurk in the shrubbery can bugger off to NZ First, thereby throwing Winston Peters a bone and giving National another minor party to talk to after the election.

But why wait for QEII to die? Surely there'd be more to gain by formalising an amicable split between Her Royal Highness and this outlier nation? Can someone please get hold of Simon Walker and put some feelers out. Otherwise we'll be sharing the peace pipe with Charles and how would that look?