Deborah Coddington: Labour's shame won't be Clark's

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If the final results deliver a win for National, the first casualty of Labour's loss will surely be Mike Williams _ an affable guy and successful bagman whom the party nasties have long been betraying.

Party president Williams' back must fairly twitch in anticipation of the sharpening knives. That's politics. As Gladstone famously said: "your enemies are behind you; over there is the opposition."

Williams' bungling of the H-fee neutron bomb was the last straw.

But if it's curtains for Clark as Prime Minister, how long will Clark last as leader? Labour would be foolish to move precipitously.

She's never been one to buckle in shame, but she can take her place on the opposition benches with her head held high.

As PM, Clark's not done a bad job, and she'll remain popular with the urban trendies, the luvvies, the arty-farty literati.

But out in rural heartland, hell will freeze over before farmers allow a Green Party tail to wag a Labour Government dog _ as threatened by the Greens' surge in polling.

Cockies just won't be bossed around by a bunch of Morris dancers. "Take your regulation lightbulbs, one-child policies, anti-dairying fibs, and organic-or-nothing fascism back to your rimu-lined kitchens," they would say, "then stuff them in your happy-bakky pipes and smoke them."

In this last campaign Clark never looked better, as she succumbed to daily hairdos, and recognised cosmetics as a girl's best friend. Her gaffes were few, and the press gallery protected her from potentially huge discomfort by not reporting her ill-timed comments on a high profile murder case _ still ongoing _ lest the trial was aborted and the accused went unpunished.

She won't be discredited by the political obituary writers, unlike her British pal Tony Blair, described in The Spectator last week as a "guy who courted the very wealthy and in return gave us the Dome, all-night binge-drinking, Alaistair Campbell, Ken Livingston, the death of Dr Kelly, two wars and a lethal decline in our civil liberties". (They forgot Cherie's memoirs.) Organisations such as the Business

Roundtable, and parties like the Libertarianz, will dance on her grave but such ungraciousness is as popular as unsalted porridge.

Has Clark left New Zealand a better place after nine years? Financially we're worse off, but money's not everything. We have a greater tolerance towards others _ you can't assault children then plead reasonable disciplinary force; prostitutes are no longer criminals; gays can marry _ sort of.

She has an acid tongue and escapes relatively unscathed from scandals _ think speeding, signing a painting, Winston. Too late, we saw her human side in the last TVNZ debate. If a miracle happens, she makes history and rules for another three years, she might consider upping the charm. But the country, abhorring the negative, swings towards change.

As an MP she was nice to me just once, in 2004 at Paul and Deborah Holmes' Christmas party. The PM and Peter Davis extracted themselves from the throng, sat down with me and my husband, and chatted pleasantly about personal stuff for 30 minutes. There were no votes in that. She didn't have to woo an insignificant opposition backbencher.

But she did, and I realised why this iron-willed woman is billed our most popular Prime Minister, ever.

- Herald on Sunday

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