You say you’re so lonely / well that’s all that you deserve

A few weeks back Brigid and I sat in a restau­rant on Hong Kong’s peak with a few friends. One of these, Felix, had brought his dad, Kevin, along.

His dad was an enor­mous­ly suc­cess­ful importer/exporter out of and into Hong Kong. We talked and we laughed a fair bit and I enjoyed his com­pa­ny.

After a while he asked where we came from. New Zealand I answered, explain­ing that we were Asian based expats.
You must be enor­mous­ly proud of your Prime Min­is­ter, said Kevin.

I explained that proud was not real­ly the right word – well yes, it was a word I’d use, as below but per­haps sup­port­ive and grate­ful were more appro­pri­ate words.

Sup­port­ive because I gen­er­al­ly agreed with both her philoso­phies and poli­cies. And grate­ful because of the enor­mous strides the indus­try I’d been involved in had been able to take over the past decade as a direct result of her active per­son­al input in fur­ther­ing the indus­try. Last month there were, in one week, 13 New Zealand albums in the NZ Top 40. That would have been unthink­able if we’d had a con­tin­u­a­tion of National’s arts poli­cies of the 1990s.

Kevin seemed an unlike­ly fan though – he was a very con­ser­v­a­tive aging busi­ness­man, the sort of per­son you’d assume would sup­port the right. So I queried his opin­ion.

His opin­ion of Ms. Clark, he said, was based on how she was per­ceived out­side her home coun­try. Kevin explained that New Zealand’s mighty, and much improved in recent years, rep­u­ta­tion, at least in the Asia-Pacif­ic region, rest­ed in no small part upon the way she was per­ceived. As hon­est, decent, clean and prin­ci­pled. And, impor­tant­ly, inde­pen­dent.

It’s hard to over­state how pos­i­tive­ly New Zealand is viewed beyond it’s shores and it, too, is hard to over­state the role Helen Clark has in that per­cep­tion. It wasn’t always so. Before 2000 we were seen as pret­ty much a US satel­lite state. Clean though.

As a non-res­i­dent New Zealan­der I feel a lit­tle, no that’s sil­ly, more than that, quite a bit, sad­dened by the end of the Clark era. She’s some­one who, and I think my opin­ion is echoed by most New Zealan­ders I meet off­shore, that does give me some pride. Taxi dri­vers around Asia ask where I’m from – they either respond to my answer with “Kia Ora!” or a thumbs up “Helen Clark!”.

She has sub­stan­tial inter­na­tion­al mana and I’m pret­ty sure John Key, who from a dis­tance looks like a per­son­al­i­ty free zone (an opin­ion empha­sized by his pathet­ic leap onto Oba­ma both before the elec­tion and in his vic­to­ry speech – does he have his own per­son­al­i­ty or sim­ply bor­row?), will be lucky to achieve same lev­el of respect beyond the nation’s shores. And of course that respect trans­lates back to New Zealand’s stand­ing.

This elec­tion, in an odd way also changes, ever so slight­ly, my feel­ings for my home coun­try. In the last few years, since I left NZ, I’m find­ing some parts of it hard­er and hard­er to relate to and this change unfor­tu­nate­ly con­firms that dis­tance.

I don’t quite get the bile that’s infest­ed parts of the polit­i­cal land­scape of NZ, such as the ram­pant hate of many of the right wing blogs and those that inhab­it them. Or the likes if the wacko fringe like Ian Wishart or Lind­sey Peri­go. Maybe I missed it before, but did we always have these nut­ters? Maybe we did, but before the net came along they sim­ply fes­tered and hung out at dusty halls shout­ing slo­gans at can­di­dates before the police rus­tled them off. Now they get an audi­ence and the fes­ter­ing – with awful slo­gans like Helen­grad and Liar­bor –finds bizarre cur­ren­cy. Or they wail end­less­ly about cor­rup­tion, with­out hav­ing any idea of what cor­rup­tion actu­al­ly means to the kids in third world coun­tries who spend years study­ing and pass­ing exams but are unable to get the paper­work to prove it because their par­ents can’t afford to bribe the teacher and head­mas­ter – that’s cor­rup­tion, not the sign­ing of a pic­ture or not, or a hun­dred oth­er noth­ing things that’ve been thrown at Helen Clark.

This, despite the fact that both her, and her unfair­ly maligned hus­band are amongst the most ded­i­cat­ed and pro­found­ly decent peo­ple I’ve met, in or out of pol­i­tics. The need to slur them, and god, haven’t they been slurred, says more about the sludge who make the slurs that the tar­gets.

Today the sludge won and I real­ly don’t know if I want any part of it.

Myself, I think his­to­ry, and we need to wait a few years, for this will view the last Labour Gov­ern­ment, but in par­tic­u­lar its leader as era-defin­ing. Some­one said she’s of the ages, which is a lit­tle tough – she is after all, still alive — but there is valid­i­ty, and his­to­ry will agree, in the statement’s intent.

The old cliché about a coun­try get­ting the gov­ern­ment they deserve has been tossed around a fair bit in recent hours and I can’t help but con­cur. Maybe it’s time for the gray, mediocre drones to have their turn. But they sure­ly reflect a side of New Zealand that I don’t miss or crave.

Thank you Helen.

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