Rodney Hide Speech: Political Leadership

Published: Mon 25 Nov 2002 09:30 AM
Rodney Hide Speech: Political Leadership: What New Zealanders are Looking For
It is great to come along and talk to the back bone of the country, and what will remain the backbone of the economy of New Zealand for a long time yet. It is also good to talk to the people that create the wealth rather than those that spend it. It is always a great honour to talk to the Kellogs group and I always do anything in my power that I can to help Lincoln University because they looked after me for so many years.
I was thinking about what my qualification was to be here. People like to give political leader speeches about Winston Churchill, Roosevelt and Truman but I never knew those fellows. So I thought I would talk about the political leadership I have seen such as it is. In Parliament we have eight leaders of political parties. You might think that that is a bit odd because there are only seven political parties but the sharing, caring Greens have two co-leaders who equally share the responsibilities of leadership.
In my time in Parliament I have seen two leaders dumped and seven leaders emerge as parties have splintered and fractured and broken up under the pressure of Parliament. I have only seen three leaders succeed. And two of them are Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons. The other is Bill English.
I have seen a lot of failures: Laile Haare, Tau Henare and, you might have forgotten her, Alamein Kopu who emerged as a political leader with her own party in parliament representing herself.
I should cover first technically what you need to do to be a political leader in our parliament. The first thing is that you need to be selected by a political party that is going to make it into Parliament. It is not very helpful to be the Leader of the South Islanders for Commonsense Party if you can't get into Parliament. So the first requirement is you have to be selected or have a Party that will make the threshold in the voting stakes and make it to Parliament.
The second thing that you have to do is that you have to get to Parliament. Hundreds of people stand at every election and only a few get in. And you can't be a political leader in our Parliament unless you get in.
And the third thing is you have to survive in Parliament. And I think that might be the hardest part. Let me run through how long our leaders have been in Parliament. Helen Clark, twenty one years a parliamentarian. Jim Anderton, eighteen years a parliamentarian, Peter Dunne, eighteen years a parliamentarian. Richard Prebble, twenty-four years a parliamentarian. Winston Peters, twenty-four years a parliamentarian. Bill English, fifteen years a parliamentarian. And the babies, in the leadership stakes, Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald are each six year parliamentarians.
So to be a political leader in New Zealand's parliament not only have you got to get to Parliament, but you have to devote your life to it. Which rules out people that are productive and useful in any other position, doesn't it? See the point? We are starting to get into a very small pool of people. People that are prepared to put themselves forward as parliamentarians and people that can actually do it.
There are some wonderful leaders in New Zealand: Maori leaders, leaders of sports teams, leaders in business, leaders of the farming industry, leaders that you've seen and who have huge ability. But we are discounting them in our country, because they don't get to parliament. You have got to spend years in Parliament, you have got to survive Parliament. You also have to want be a parliamentarian which is not everyone's cup of tea. But finally, you have to do something else.
It is enough just like Jonathan Hunt because he got selected for a party that made it to Parliament, finally in 1966, and he survived in Parliament. He has been there ever since. But he hasn't become a political leader because there is one other thing that you have to do and that is that you have to get your caucus to say, "Yes, you are the person we want to lead us". These are the technical requirements to be a political leader in New Zealand and they fall down to these two things: You have to know how to win votes and you have to be able to survive Parliament.
How many new MPs are there in this new 120 lot? There are only 29. And that was a huge intake because of the historical collapse of the National Party, the worm-made of the United Future Party and the Terror of Tauranga's success at pulling votes. Twenty-nine MPs new out of the 120. So that makes it about an eight percent a year turnover. There are not a lot of new slots even in a good year. So again it is a tough environment to get into and emerge as a political leader. And my observation of is, is that the people that hang around Parliament a long time too often become demented, grim and unhappy - some are cot cases at various stages of their career. And again, these aren't necessarily people that you want to put in charge of a full armoury of the State.
I thought Jim Bolger was a complete bozo before 1996. I had never met him or seen him in action. I turned up to Parliament and I watched him and he is the best political leader I have seen in my time in Parliament. You would never have known that reading the papers or watching TV. He was an extraordinary leader and extraordinarily successful. Jim Bolger was so much better than Helen Clark, you would never know that if you were outside of Parliament.
I will give you just a couple of things. Jim Bolger walked into Parliament, he had a presence. His whole team would just straighten their backs and sit up. When Helen Clark walks in, even as Prime Minister, no-one moves, no-one notices, she sort of shuffles in around the back and sits down. Jim Bolger also had a huge capacity to work. And his colleagues liked him, right up until they put the knife in. He worked even harder than Helen Clark. His colleagues liked and admired him. He had a sense of humour. And he never disbanded our combat air wing.
And so it is an odd thing to me that I came to realise that this fellow was an extraordinary parliamentarian but it had never been communicated to me. And now I find every one saying how great Helen Clark is. I find that extraordinary. I think she should be respected because she is the Prime Minister. She has done well in the polls. But compared to the other leaders that I have seen, I don't see this great success. The difference between her and Bill English is not much. She has the advantage of being there. But Bill's got the advantage of having better policies and a sensible caucus.
What I will say about Helen Clark is, she's got very good friends who are writing what we read in the newspapers each day and what we see on TV. And that makes all the difference. So maybe we should put in a third criterion. It is a lot easier to be a leader in New Zealand if you are a leftie. Because if you are a leftie you have lots of friends in the media and interest groups who will support you. It is very tough for the likes of a Jim Bolger, a Jenny Shipley and a Bill English.
Leaders must stand for something
The first thing to be a good leader is that you must know what you stand for. That is the most disappointing thing that we feel about our present leadership. We actually don't mind even a good leader we disagree with if we know where they stand. I have no idea where Bill English and Helen Clark stand on major issues that confront this country. In earlier times, leaders would be sat for an hour at a time on TV and questioned about foreign policy, defence and the economy. And if you started to dodge questions, the questions would continue until a) you explain that you don't know what you are talking about, b) that you are not sure what you think, or c) you actually tell the people what you think. We now have leadership by sound bite. Politicians love it. They can now duck and weave in an election interview once or twice, the audience is thought to tire and the host moves on to the next question. The host moves on because the attention span of the audience at home is beginning to drift and leaders sit in the hot seat and think, "ooh got through that". So I don't know what our current political leadership stand for or stand against.
I think I have worked out Helen Clark. She stands for what the polls say. If the polls say it is a good idea to "close the gaps", she is all for closing the gaps. If the polls say no I think we should open the gaps, she will be for that. If the polls say we should send some troops to Afghanistan, even though we know that is four square against her philosophy, she will do that. I will say she has a problem with immigration. She will ban immigrants coming to New Zealand. No philosophy, no policy, but the polling.
And I feel the same about the National Party. What part of Labour's economic policy does the leadership of the National Party oppose? I don't know. So I think we have a problem there ladies and gentlemen and I think that if you are looking for political leadership, we actually want to know what they are for and that means what they are against. What you are for isn't enough; you have to say what you are against.
Leaders need a vision
We are looking for a vision for where New Zealand can be in ten years time and in twenty years time. We are now just drifting there and are going to end up there through ad hoc political expedience. There is a terrible sense of political drift in New Zealand - in the absence of leadership with vision.
We get to vote every three years. So when we vote, it is a three year commitment. And we know that the decisions that get made will have implications and set a path well beyond those three years. And we should be expecting of our leaders that they tell us where they see New Zealand in the year 2020 and 2030. And I don't see that in our political leadership having a clue. I don't see that being demanded of us politicians from the media and indeed I don't see it demanded of us from voters. And yet if you are thinking about your farm, if you are thinking about your business, if you are thinking about your family, you are thinking of where you are going to be in ten years and indeed where you are going to be in twenty years. And political leadership should also be doing that.
Communicating the vision
Successful leaders must communicate their vision. And that vision must be communicated on several levels. The first is to citizens - the voters. We need our leaders to communicate to us on TV their vision for their country. But a good leader must also communicate their vision to their caucus, so that the caucus feels that support. Jim Bolger lost it when he could no longer communicate to his caucus where he wanted to take the country. And so they started to turn up to their parliament, their job, their work each day, not knowing what the plan was. Gosh, Jim Bolger, found it impossible to have a plan because he was relying on Winston. So there was no plan. But it is very important that the leader of New Zealand communicates to their caucus so they feel good and they know what do to, they are part of the team and they contribute.
Leaders must also communicate that vision to the policy wonks. That's where a person like Roger Douglas was an outstanding political leader because he could communicate to the Treasury, Ministry of Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, what it was he was on about and ultimately these were the civil servants that did so much of the work that implemented that programme. They need to understand. And that is a lot different than communicating it over TV by sound bites.
Know the levers of power
There is another requirement that leaders must have. They must know the levers of power. They must know where the pullies and cogs of government are. They need to know what can be changed and what can't be changed. They need to know where to go into the machinery of Government and crank and turn. The outstanding example of that is Roger Douglas again. He knew what he wanted to do and where to go to turn things to make it happen. That is the most extraordinary thing to watch parliamentarians and leaders who have no idea where the leaders of power are. They have no idea actually what they can and can't do.
Tau Henare made it into Parliament. He got the support of caucus. He made it into cabinet. He became Minister of Maori Affairs. Finally, he has made it. He is a Maori political leader in Parliament, he is a Minister. He said what he wanted to do. He said what his priorities were, where he wanted the money spent, but he fell over on one element. No-one told him that you had to ask the Minister of Finance for the money. He never sat down and wrote a note to Bill Birch, saying "Dear Bill, here is my programme, could you please set aside $50m over the next three years for this programme". And then he heard that they were putting something together called the Budget. Found out what it was, went across and said what about me? And they said, very sorry, but you are too late, just like that and he missed out, failure. He didn't know the levers of power.
* * * *
We know what we are looking for in our leadership and some times when we look at the process that we have to put our future political leaders through we might think that it is not necessarily the best process or the most conducive for bringing out the inspirational political leadership that looking for.
I am reminded of Winston Churchill's statement that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried. We should understand better the limitations of our political leadership and of politics. It is in understanding that limitation that sees me thump down so heavily on the side of limited government.
Thank you very much.

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