Barry Soper is Newstalk ZB's Political Editor

Barry Soper: In politics, timing is everything

Prime Minister Bill English. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Bill English. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It's been fascinating reading the accounts of our former living Prime Ministers' time at the top, excluding John Key, and remembering them from the perspective of someone who saw them daily and wrote about them constantly.

The series started with Geoffrey Palmer, who was left shocked, not unlike Bill English recently, when David Lange suddenly stepped aside leaving him to run the shop.

The shop left to Palmer though wasn't high end, it was facing a staff walkout as Labour fell apart with few of them seeing eye to eye.

The fact that Palmer was able to hold it together until eight weeks before the 1990 election was no mean feat, and he now reflects on the time at the top as a nuisance.

Of course it was for him, he was an academic, more interested in writing the incomprehensible Resource Management Act, than he was running the country.

But Mike Moore was like a dog, panting, waiting for the bone.

He took counsel from a number of us who told him taking over the leadership so close to an election was political suicide, and of course it was.

Things may have been different for him if he'd let Palmer take the fall, allowing him to come in and pick up the pieces.

He felt he'd done the apprenticeship though but his campaign against Jim Bolger was a disaster.

A meeting scheduled at the Len Southward Museum on the Kapiti Coast was a classic example.

By the time he turned up, the number gathered to listen to the new Prime Minister wouldn't have filled a minibus.

A real bus had to be dispatched to bolster the crowd but even then, few were willing to take the time.

My phone would ring at home and a rasping cough would explode into the receiver and the ensuing conversation was always the same.

"Hi Mike," and once the cough had died down he'd ask, "How do you think it's going?"

The answer was always the same, there was no way to sugarcoat the disaster that was about to happen.

At least Moore was referred to as "Prime Minister" for almost as long as his Labour successor Helen Clark was, given the Americans' penchant using the title long after the position has been forfeited.

It's a pity Moore never got more time to prove himself as a leader in this country, he had buckets of ability, as his later achievements would show.

In politics though, timing is everything as the next three to be covered by the series will attest to.

Jim Bolger was there at the right time, as Labour was imploding, Jenny Shipley wasn't, as National was falling apart, and Helen Clark was rewarded for serving an 18 year apprenticeship, ironically the same number of years Bolger had put in before he took the coveted job.

- Newstalk ZB

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