Brian Edwards Media

The Prince Charles Syndrome

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I assume Phil Goff would like to be Prime Minister of New Zealand. He has every reason to think he deserves the job. He’s served a lengthy apprenticeship, having come into Parliament in 1981, the same year as Helen Clark. And he’s had a distinguished career as an MP and Cabinet Minister. He’s highly intelligent and well-informed on a whole range of portfolios from Justice to Foreign Affairs. And he comes from good Labour stock.

Goff and his party are languishing in the polls at the moment, but their figures are actually better than Helen Clark’s and Labour’s were in early-mid 1996. Both the party and its leader then looked like dog-tucker. In my book, Helen, Portrait of a Prime Minister, she takes up the story: 

‘Then, in May 1996, just before caucus, I get this delegation telling me to stand down. From memory there was Michael Cullen, Phil Goff, Annette King, Koro Wetere, Jim Sutton. I had heard that they were intending to come, so I’d mobilised my Deputy, David Caygill, Steve Maharey, Trevor Mallard and Jonathan Hunt. I can’t remember if anyone else was there.

‘Anyway, these people had rushed around the caucus counting numbers and then decided they’d come and confront me and ask me to stand down, and say there was a majority who wanted that to happen. And the line was, you’re a nice person, blah, blah, blah, but you can’t win the election and we don’t want to have to challenge you directly at the caucus, so it would just be better if you resigned.  And I said to them, “Well, if you want  a change of leader, you’re going to have to go into caucus and move a motion.”‘

Which was another way of saying, ‘OK, if you think you’ve got the numbers, do your worst, I’m not budging’. The matter was not put to caucus and Helen went on to become New Zealand’s first elected woman Prime Minister and one of the country’s longest serving.  

That’s the history. But it’s interesting to speculate what might have happened if Clark had not  called the coup leaders’ bluff and stood down. In every conversation I’ve had with Michael Cullen, he’s claimed to have had no interest in leading the Labour Party or being Prime Minister. So Labour’s new leader might well have been Phil Goff: 43, talented, hungry, going places.

Could Goff have won against Bolger in 1996? Quite possibly. A factor in Winston Peter’s decision to go with National in the country’s first MMP election may well have been his reluctance to serve under a woman Prime Minister. So he might just have gone with Labour, and Phil Goff would have achieved his ambition to lead the country.

Whether or not he would have lasted three terms is impossible to say. But Peters has proved an uncomfortable bedfellow for more than one New Zealand Prime Minister  and there is no reason to believe things would have been very different under Goff.

So the question arises: did Phil Goff miss his one and only opportunity in May 1996?

Popular political wisdom at the moment has it that Labour will not win the next election. If that is right and if Goff’s personal rating as preferred Prime Minister has not significantly improved by then, he’s unlikely to survive long as Opposition leader after the election. In similar circumstances, Clark had 6 months to improve her poll ratings and did so spectacularly. Goff has at least 18 months and National’s social and economic policies will inevitably begin to erode the party’s huge lead in the polls well before then. So Goff is in with a chance, albeit a slender one.

Against him is a less easy, less engaging image than Key’s and a phenomenon which I like to call The Prince Charles Syndrome. Charles, the man who would be king, has simply been around too long. Kept waiting by a mother in excellent health and showing no inclination to abdicate, the once young and attractive prince has lost his appeal to his handsome and exciting son, Prince William.  Kept waiting by the hugely charismatic, if morally flawed Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, the dour Scottish son of a Presbyterian minister, may have suffered the same fate – around too long. And the same may be true of Phil Goff.

At the heart of National’s 2008 election win was the simplistic but potent belief that it was ‘time for a change’. John Key had been in Parliament only 6 years when he became Prime Minister. He was fresh and new and the electorate is giving him a lot of slack. We are still getting to know him.

When the 2011 election rolls around, Phil Goff will have been in Parliament for 30 years, kept waiting for twelve of those years by a woman who in 1996 also refused to abdicate.

So does Phil Goff deserve to be Prime Minister of New Zealand? I believe that he does.

And has he been around too long? Possibly.

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18 Comments:

  1. Id be ok with Phil Goff as Pm and even happier with Labour in power.I also confess to be more aligned to the greem party .Ive never been someone who considers the “leader”to be who I support, more so the policys and direction of the party.In saying that I consider John Key to be totally underwhelming and perhaps his leadership may implode on itself.At the moment the Emperers wearing no clothes and no one has noticed.
    I also like the comment about the National partys social and economic direction as it seems to be steaming ahead unchallenged. Its sure to come back to earth with a resounding thud .

  2. Having just emerged into the warm light of freedom after nine long, cold years of Clarkist oppression, the prospect of a return of a Labour regime is chilling to contemplate.

    We’ve barely even commenced repairing the damage inflicted to our society and our economy by the Communists. Do we really want a return to;

    “Indoctrination, not education.”
    “Traffic enforcement, not law enforcement.”
    “Welfare lifestyle, not work/life balance.”
    “Entitlements, not responsibilities.”

    ..so soon?

    • Having just emerged into the warm light of freedom after nine long, cold years of Clarkist oppression, the prospect of a return of a Labour regime is chilling to contemplate.

      Is that what you’ve emerged into? Can’t have been following the news much lately.

  3. “A factor in Winston Peter’s decision to go with National in the country’s first MMP election may well have been his reluctance to serve under a woman Prime Minister.”

    Big call? What do you base that on?

    • Big call? What do you base that on?

      Extensive reading about WP, conversations with politicans, a widely held view among political commentators, my own observation of the gentleman.

  4. “oob” says it all, nicely. NZ suffered a prolonged nuclear winter under “Aunty’s” stultifying Stalinist-style regime; ably assisted by Arch Lieutenant Heather Simpson, Margaret Wilson, the (recovering) Ruth Dyson and a slew of other feminazis. A time of squandered wealth, lost opportunity; the best ‘n’ brightest effed-off, overseas; a burgeoning and bloated civil service bureaucracy; eye-watering social welfare payouts; economic mismanagement to rival that of North Korea’s. Waste, waste, waste, and more waste.

    Phil Goff was always going to struggle, emerging from this plutonium wasteland with much credibility, to stake his claim for PM. As you’ve rightly pointed out: he’s like the perennial bridesmaid who’s never quite managed to snare the posy from the back toss of the bride. He’s Labour’s equivalent of “Gentleman” Jack Marshall: loyal (well, seemingly); strong work ethic; principled; forthright and scrupulously honest.

    But, when it comes to political fortunes, “earnest patience” is never the coin of the realm; it’s “naked ambition” and “Machiavellian guile”. Now, that he’s been handed a wilting bunch of flowers, all the suitors are looking elsewhere. It’s almost unbearable, seeing the final stages of transmogrification from hitherto expectant bridesmaid to shrivelling spinster. We avert our eyes away from him, in embarrassment and pity.

    • “oob” says it all, nicely. NZ suffered a prolonged nuclear winter under “Aunty’s” stultifying Stalinist-style regime; ably assisted by Arch Lieutenant Heather Simpson, Margaret Wilson, the (recovering) Ruth Dyson and a slew of other feminazis.

      As Dick Emery used to say, Merv: Oh you are awful, but I like you!

  5. “Having just emerged into the warm light of freedom after nine long, cold years of Clarkist oppression, the prospect of a return of a Labour regime is chilling to contemplate.

    We’ve barely even commenced repairing the damage inflicted to our society and our economy by the Communists. Do we really want a return to”

    Excuse me, but I really didn’t see the nationalisation of all privately owned businesses and property, the collectivisation of agriculture, and establishment of a secret police, and mass jailing of all thos public figures opposed to the Clark regieme.

    • Excuse me, but I really didn’t see the nationalisation of all privately owned businesses and property, the collectivisation of agriculture, and establishment of a secret police, and mass jailing of all thos public figures opposed to the Clark regime.

      Strangely enough, neither did I, Millsy.

  6. millsy: It wasn’t meant to be taken literally. “oob” was using a literary device, constructing a — metaphoric — paradigm, illustrative of the Communist system: of rigid ideology and the accompanying all-controlling singular personality. And, to that end, he/she/it makes the point. But, for someone, who has a limited understanding of govt. and even less of an understanding of political commentary, and whose life experiences are confined to Harry Potter novels — your blinding ignorance is, most definitely, “excused”.

  7. Millsy Im in complete agreement with your summation.Me thinks you may have struck a nerve.

  8. Too right Millsy. The question is why did oob need to construct a metaphor of a communist system, when the Fifth Labour Government was no such thing?

    As for Merv’s need to insult your capacity to understand the world Millsy, who could know what that is about.

    Phil Goff can be Prime Minister. I’ve seen him take the stage and out speak every other person, displaying an effortless grasp on major issues. And to be frank, if John Key can be Prime Minister, anybody can.

    Is that what you’ve emerged into? Can’t have been following the news much lately.

    Or Brian, perhaps oob doesn’t think what happens in Auckland will be rolled out across every other local government body in the country, should the National/ACT government get half a chance. Or maybe he just likes local government by corporation.

  9. “As for Merv’s need to insult your capacity to understand the world Millsy, who could know what that is about”.

    You’re right, Sean, the “insult” is withdrawn. The “Harry Potter” reference was uncalled for; it’s the “Mills and Boon” novellas, I meant. (Apologies to JKR).

  10. Merv I cant let you have the last word.Your knowledge of Harry Potter and Mills and Boon neednt be something to be ashamed of.We all have our guilty pleasures.

  11. Well, at least those readings taught me to interpose the apostrophe — in “cant” and “neednt”. Something, that reading comics can’t.

  12. I’d be okay to have Phil Goff as PM. In fact that would be great.