Denis Welch says that although Labour and National might have historic differences, in recent times that have shared a ‘fundamental similarity’:
for the past 20 years both have signed up to the Rogernomical paradigm.... Where it really matters—the structure of the New Zealand economy—they share common ground. They are also increasingly hard to tell apart in the areas of foreign affairs, defence, trade, environment, energy, science, technology, education, immigration, Maori issues, justice, commerce, investment, agriculture, tourism and export industries generally…
Of course, Welch admits that this is hardly surprising, but that what ‘irks’ him is 1) ‘the much-vaunted notion that Clark is ‘tribal Labour’ and hard-wired to oppose everything National stands for’, and 2) the fact ‘that the parties themselves make such a big deal out of being substantively different, and vigorously condemn each other for being the Devil incarnate’.
Welch also tries to explain the current National Government’s popularity alongside his perception that they are getting ‘a far less rough ride than Clark's government did’. His explanation is that a) the National Party and Government is more in line with Establishment and business interests and hence has not had to be pulled into line like Clark’s Labour Government was, and b) that National’s ‘co-option’ of the Maori Party is a ‘masterstroke’ that ‘has freed National from a great deal of potential political bother’.
There’s some truth in all of this, but I think Welch is exaggerating how much more National is friendly to business. It’s true that National doesn’t have a leftwing party like the Alliance trying to nudge it mildly leftwards in a way that might be disconcerting to business (as was the case in 1999), but apart from that, it’s hard to see how in reality business were in any way deeply unhappy with the Labour Governments of the 2000s. A more plausible explanation is the fact that the last Labour Government played a crucial part in ending the years of radical reform and thus helping cement in a new political consensus (one that has the neoliberal framework at its core), and the new National Government is now a status quo government that is more in touch with popular opinion.
Anyhow, the new book will deal more with the nature of the Fifth Labour Government. It’s 240 pages long, and crucially, not an authorised biography.
The publisher’s blub says:
Helen Clark led the Labour Party for 15 years, resurrecting it from the rifts of Rogernomics before becoming one of New Zealand's most successful Prime Ministers. Her term as Prime Minister lasted nine years. In 2006 Forbes magazine listed her as the 20th most powerful woman in the world. Clark's time in politics stretches from the anti-war protests of 1968 through the rise of feminism, environmentalism and market forces, to the global financial crisis of 2008 - 40 years of extraordinary political change. Remarkably, no proper political biography of Helen Clark has been written before. Here, for the first time, is the full story of how Clark rose to power and held both the Labour Party and the New Zealand Government together, cementing her place in our country's political history. This is an unauthorised biography.
Denis Welch has been a highly respected writed and commentator for many years. He is a former deputy editor of the New Zealand Listener and currently has a regular spot on Radio New Zealand National's 'Nine to Noon' programme. He is also a blogger and a novelist, and has twice stood for Parliament: for the Values Party in 1978 and the Green Party in 1992.
The price of the new book is $40, but I see that pre-release purchases of it can be made on the Mighty Ape website for only $32.