New Zealand PM, Helen Clark: Unlike UK Labour counterpart Blair, a huge success Print E-mail
 Tuesday March 28, 2006

In praise of ... Helen Clark


It is unlikely that Tony Blair gives much thought to how different things could have been for himself, his party and the government over which he presides. But when he meets New Zealand's prime minister Helen Clark in Auckland tomorrow, he could reflect that Ms Clark is a glimpse of what he could have been.

The pair have some things in common: both are in their 50s, both were elected as Labour MPs in the early 1980s and both have won three elections in succession. The similarities do not stretch much further.

Ms Clark took over a party that was splintered by its legacy of Thatcherite reforms in the 1980s and the country's proportional election system. Denied the luxury of huge majorities enjoyed by Mr Blair, Ms Clark skillfully balanced both wings of her party and built valuable coalitions. She has maintained New Zealand's robust anti-nuclear policy - to US chagrin and a series of petty retaliations - and withdrew its tiny contingent of engineers from Iraq as early as September 2004. The realities of coalition and proportional representation politics have made Ms Clark a pragmatist. Yet that has not stopped her government piloting radical legislation: it introduced an indoor smoking ban without the fudges of Mr Blair's attempt. At the same time she has acted like a grown-up with a talented and aggressive finance minister at her elbow. Above all, she has remained popular both inside and outside her party.

Mr Blair could learn a lot from his fellow Labour leader.