Audrey Young

Political editor Audrey Young blogs from Parliament

Blog: Clark set to step away from the fray

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My introduction to the Observer columnist Andrew Rawnsley occurred in the tiny Pacific Island state of Kiribati in 2000.
Helen Clark was there for the Pacific Islands Forum and her husband, the lovely and guileless Peter Davis, came too.
Instead of joining the other spouses on a boat trip to join the leaders for lunch, the professor chose to stay in hotel room to finish the book he was reading.
It turned out to be Servants of the People, Rawnsley's brilliant account of how the Courts of Blair and Brown developed, co-existed, and often didn't.
He had great sources, including both Blair and Brown.
Rawnsley was among a group of leading British journalists brought to New Zealand the following year, I think, by the British Council, and he was a treat to listen to. He has always seemed much more approving of the Brown camp, than Blair.
Anyway, he usually provides an excellent weekly read on the Guardian website and today he has an interesting column on the state of the Conservatives in the face of unexpected popularity of Brown as new Labour Prime Minister.
According to Rawnsley, leader David Cameron is being panicked into rehitting the classic Conservative buttons of immigration, crime, tax cuts and crime, which have failed his last three predecessors.
David Cameron had better decide - and quickly - how he wants to be defined in the public mind. He has previously projected himself as an upbeat, optimistic spirit, a leader who told his last party conference that he wanted to 'let sunshine rule the day'.

That approach is easy to mock...
Messrs Hague, (Duncan Smith) and Howard tried to win votes by painting a dystopian picture of Britain overwhelmed by immigrants, intrigued against by foreigners and overrun by criminals. Not recognising itself in the apocalyptic portrait painted by the Tories, Britain did not vote for them.
When David Cameron talks about 'anarchy in the UK', he imitates his predecessors. He begins to sound like the angry, old-fashioned, unreconstructed Tory he always promised not to be. He becomes Disgusted of Notting Hill grumbling that the country has gone to the dogs.
There are no direct parallels to New Zealand but John Key has made no secret that David Cameron over there is a role model, and certainly, National is doing exactly what the Conservatives have done - moving to the centre after failing to gain power through shifting to the right.
The obvious difference is that it is not working there but it is here. Labour's attempts here to undermine Key have fallen flat.
It may not be time for Labour to panic, but it should be time to start feeling very nervous.
At this critical time, Clark heads to Australia this week for Apec which is both good and bad timing. It is the first of a host of overseas trips which gives her a platform to step away from the grubby domestic fray that has dominated politics here for the past couple of weeks and to show she can foot it on the international stage.
But the downside is that things often go to the dogs when she is away, especially when she takes chief of staff Heather Simpson with her too.
She will need to put Hodgson, Mallard and Goff on a short leash.

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