Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Goff's departing legacy lies in his trade deals

Phil Goff and his deputy, Annette King, announce their resignations  yesterday. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Phil Goff and his deputy, Annette King, announce their resignations yesterday. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Phil Goff finished his press conference about his imminent resignation and walked along the parliamentary corridor in good humour with his deputy, Annette King.

"I think we'll have a cup of tea," he said, which is the same as making a joke these days.

The transition from his leadership of Labour to the next generation in two weeks will be nothing like his own seamless transition to the role three years ago by Cabinet agreement.

At that time he was the only viable alternative.

An ambitious David Cunliffe had to be reined in after Helen Clark resigned on election night and told not to even think of being leader.

Steve Maharey might have put up a fight against Goff if he had not headed off into university management. But Maharey would never havewon.

Goff was the only one with experience, his reputation intact, and with the necessary House skills to take over the party, lead a credible opposition and save Labour from tearing itself apart after defeat.

A couple of weeks before the election, Goff lamented the circumstances that had made his transition to leadership so easy.

He thought it had deprived the public of the chance to see a contest, to see if he was made of the tough stuff required to put yourself up as an alternative Prime Minister.

He also lamented that votershad only just got to know himduring the campaign with all the scrutiny that attracts.

Goff won't be remembered as a Labour great. His legacy to the party over three years was to make some bold policy shifts, many to the left, and to move the party away from identity politics and towards pragmatism.

His real political legacy is more rooted in his achievements as Minister of Foreign Affairs and later Trade when he negotiated the Free Trade Agreement with China and teamed up with the United States to start the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

And that record may take him to new posts after politics, as Prime Minister John Key suggested yesterday.

With that in the offing and another three years in Parliament, it may be too early yet to write Goff's legacy to New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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