Friday 1 April 2011

Looking For A Hero

David Parker: He doesn't look very heroic. I doubt he owns a motorbike. But I believe, given the opportunity, he could make a real contest of the 2011 General Election

IS IT A BIRD? Is it a plane? No, it’s Super-Politician!

Perhaps it’s the lingering legacies of Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy that keep us looking for political super-heroes. Larger than life figures who speak to our inner monarchist: to that fatal human predilection for handing off the big decisions to the strongest, the smoothest-talking and the most confident alpha male in the tribe.

It’s what persuaded the scholarly Don Brash to wear a racing-driver’s outfit and attempt to squeeze his angular frame into a go-cart many sizes too small. It’s what led Phil Goff to roll up to his party conference astride an implausibly potent motorbike. The political advisers of both men were determined to show the voters that their employers were “real” men. If people still rode horses, you can bet that any supplied to Don and Phil would’ve been large and white.

But the people we think we’d like to have in charge very seldom resemble the people we actually elect to govern us.

Only once have New Zealanders elected a politician who in any way resembled that “man on a white horse” for whom we’re all supposed to be yearning. His name was Gordon Coates and he was a decorated hero of the First World War. Tall, good-looking, compassionate, possessed of the common-touch, Coates was this country’s first New Zealand-born prime minister. For all these attributes, however, he held office for barely three years.

By contrast, our most beloved prime minister, the grandfatherly Michael Joseph Savage, looked anything but heroic. He was small of stature, physically frail and had a weak speaking voice. The very idea of Mickey Savage on a white horse is absurd.

And yet he was a hero. Diagnosed as suffering from colon cancer, Savage was urged to step away from the office of prime minister – or risk dying in it. He refused. The legislation establishing New Zealand’s welfare state was due to come into force only after the 1938 general election, and Savage was (rightly) convinced that without him Labour’s re-election could not be assured. He threw himself into a campaign that extended from one end of the country to the other. His audiences numbered in the tens-of-thousands, and on polling-day he was rewarded with the most unequivocal mandate ever delivered by the New Zealand electorate.

Eighteen months later he was dead.

True heroes are distinguished as much for their moral courage as their physical bravery. Indeed, on the battlefields of politics it is the exercise of moral authority that separates the truly strong leader from his or her merely tough and/or clever rivals.

It is precisely in this regard: in the exercise of sound ethical judgement and the unflinching demonstration of the Leader of the Opposition’s moral authority; that Phil Goff has so consistently fallen short throughout the Darren Hughes controversy.

The experience of Opposition is there for aspiring prime ministers to demonstrate to the electorate that they have the right stuff to do the job. That, faced with the choice between being loyal to a friend and faithful to the principles of sound political management, they possess the courage to choose ethics over friendship. For leadership is a lonely calling, and since only one head at a time may wear the crown, a leader’s head should be both good and wise.

Is there a head on Labour’s front bench better and wiser than Mr Goff’s? Is there someone who has felt the hot blast of scandal on his face and possessed the moral courage to take the Westminster tradition of ministerial responsibility seriously? Someone willing to stand alongside the ordinary New Zealanders who are Labour’s core constituency? Someone with the guts and the smarts to come up with policies that will give them a fighting chance?

Yes, there is.

He doesn’t look very heroic. I doubt he owns a motorbike. But I believe, given the opportunity, he could make a real contest of this election.

His name is David Parker.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 1 April 2011.


Anonymous said...

Your timing of this article is unfortunate. Is it not April Fools day today?

Chris Trotter said...

It is indeed!

barry said...

Ive thought about all this and theres no doubt about it............

April 1

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be pedantic (not really), but F.H.D. Bell, Coates' mentor, was the first New Zealand born Prime Minister. Check your friend Bassett's biography of Coates on page 90. Bell was of course a transitional figure, perhaps like Goff, but who is he mentoring? Are you sure it is Parker? Why won't the 1980s generation give up power in the Labour Party? Hasn't this happened before, when Nash and Nordmeyer did not allow for a younger leader to emerge, before Kirk eventually took over.

When is the next book coming out?

Nick said...

"Why won't the 1980s generation give up power in the Labour Party?"

Great question: Dont know the answer but would suggest they dont have the confidence to find a role outside of parliament. The front bench is tainted by the Roger era when Goff was a minister, and by the Helen era when they all pretty much had cabinet positions. Tired and dismissed by the electorate they really should have evacuated and left the position to a new rearguard to earn their colours. A few more of the age of Adern might help, but we should remember that the electorate too is ageing.

Anonymous said...

The big difference of course is that people came to know Michael J via unadultered pamphlets, public meetings and the wireless - where every voice was weedy. Today's view of David has come entirely from TV, radio and the papers - all of which currently display heavy bias in one direction (today's example - Paul Henry "left" because of his "pronunciation" of a name).

He could be Jesus on speed for all the good it'd do to promote him at this stage. Until Labour learns and applies the lessons of Mining, Mt Albert, Lenslide and Winnie, to Jo P he's a hamster who's lost his glasses: Rowling's younger brother.

Only time and hard, grass-roots graft can get the real picture through. The former is long gone for this election, and the latter is rapidly melting in the heat of infighting.

Let's just cool it and get back to work.


Anonymous said...

Someone willing to stand alongside the ordinary New Zealanders who are Labour’s core constituency?

Ordinary New Zealanders are aspirational, alarm clock Kiwis. Labour abandoned them along time ago.

The core constituency of the Labour Party is the welfare beneficiaries, the criminals and the unskilled 3rd world immigrants.

"Ordinary New Zealanders" are those over-stretched taxpayers expected to pick up the tab for the lifestyle choices of Labour's core constituency.

Tiger Mountain said...

@Anon 9.33am. Go the wedgie. Thanks for reminding me it is election year and to enquire-do tories get paid to blog?
Welfare beneficiaries now happen to include the odd 60,000 from QuakeChurch along with the tens of thousands hit by the incremental disaster wave of the repression. “Work will save you” is way easier if work exists.

Anonymous said...

David Parker could pull it off and work with maori, unions, small business and green minded New Zealanders. Overseeing a low rise earthquake proof Garden City into a Southern Eco city, and the shift of Auckland and Wellington into Eco cities. New Zealand could take off from where labour's early 'carbon neutral' environmental vision was starting to form.

With Parker as PM, and Cunliffe as finance minister, with Russel Norman as associate Environment Minister and Charles Chauvel as a pacific Climate Minister and people like Ardern and Robertson having good positions an exciting and modern Aotearoa New Zealand could exist.

Metiria would make a fine conservation minister and such appointments would bring maori into the fold in environmental decision making in our country.

We need a vision and leaders. Parker and Metiria are two of them. People like Norman and Cunliffe have the finance smarts to make such visions workable, and people like Robertson and Arden have the skills to articulate such visions. 2011 could be a very exciting year.

I look forward to more forward thinking article Chris, and also would be interested in some articulating a vision for our fine nation.

SPC said...

It's not the role of the party caucus leader to come up with or determine policy. Whether Parker becomes leader or not, or it remains Goff, he should be contributing his input to policy and respecting the role of the wider party and contribution of other members of caucus.

Victor said...


After what happened last time, I'm wary of agreeing with you. I do so all the same


peterquixote said...

sweet jesus

Anonymous said...

Cunliffe would be better, and a match for smarmite Key. Better looking too, and knows how to hold a crowd...

Anonymous said...

We know Goff has about as much vision as Gerry Brownlee and as much chance of being prime minister as Bill English or Nick Smith. Bring on David Parker!

He is capable of promoting and articulating a modern vision of New Zealand, a low carbon economy - jobs that bring people out of poverty and unemployment - reducing emissions and reducing unemployment - is what we need.

Someone comfortable in our rural and urban communities. Key wants to sell off our assets, and sell out our future, enough with the motorways, debt, carbon debt and endless talk without substance, and spending without a plan or vision. We need a jobs plan, environmental management and someone who listens to people, not a smile and wave soundbite lightweight.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry but I cannot agree that a list MP becoming a PM or a Cabinet Minister. Parker was rejected by the Otago Electorate for whom he did one stint as MP. It is a display of absolute contempt on the part of Parties and individuals who return as an MP after being rejected at the polls.

Anonymous said...

John A Lee was a hero too. He may have only had one arm, but he used the other to prop up Mickey Savage, the anti-hero.

Whose arm would Parker depend on?


jh said...

I agree with anon @ 9:33
we have lived through our best times and what we saw was a fat slice on welfare; those on welfare (or their children) were over represented in crime. That is my world view and that's (one reason) why the present product of the Labour party is stale cheese.

Anonymous said...

Don't you have faith in Goff, Mr Trotter? At least he has an electorate seat, and an electorate wanted him.

Anonymous said...

Parker could win back Otago. Goff can never win over NZ.

Anonymous said...

David Cunliffe would appeal to many voters. I cant understand why Labour wont give him a go and insists on perservering with a losing format. We just cant afford to lose this election.

Anonymous said...

Afford it or not, the election has already been lost, barring something amazing/unforseen happening between now and November.

National must indeed be laughing all the way to the polls. They could well be governing alone, even!

Anonymous said...

this years election is going to be a whitewash for National. New Zealanders are quickly becoming superficial. I'm 19 and the kids my age are either selfish and or so ignorant they'll go to that polling booth not knowing what Labour and National really are. What seems to benefit National is that John Key looks like a nice guy whereas Goff just doesn't inspire. Sadly Labour need to get their head out their and the capitalist's asses and re-read or read for the first time some Karl Marx