In an ideal world the Secretary General of the United Nations would be a strong, clear-eyed, fair-minded and forceful personality. He or she would be willing to say what needs to be said when international conflicts arise, even if the truth was unwelcome to one or other of the world's larger powers. Sadly it is not an ideal world and the United Nations, an organisation set up with idealism, has not been the force its founders hope.

A third straw poll of the current members of the Security Council suggests Helen Clark is not the name the council will recommend to the General Assembly to be the next Secretary General. All three polls have been topped by a former Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio Guterres, and the most recent, on Monday, saw a Slovakian Foreign Minister, Miroslav Lajcak, leap from 10th in the second ballot to second in the third. Council members are clearly unmoved by the idea that it is time for the first woman in the role, though Lajcak's rise suggest they may be persuaded it is time Eastern Europe had a turn.

Clark, having slid from sixth in the first ballot to seventh in the last two rounds, is determined to stay in the race, as she should. She has never been a quitter when the odds are against her. She is putting her hope now in a stalemate between the council heavyweights that causes them to look for a compromise candidate. But the fact she has received as many as eight "discourage" votes out of the 15 council members suggests one or more of the five permanent members may be against her.

There is no telling which one it may be. The United States might be holding her leading role in the destruction of Anzus against her - and it was a leading role. Though she was not in the Labour Cabinet in 1985, she was popular among party activists and brought their pressure to bear on the Lange Government at crucial times. But it is hard to imagine the Obama Administration dwelling on events of 30 years ago.


China is probably well disposed to her as the Prime Minister when New Zealand made a free trade agreement with China. Britain and France have no particular reason to oppose her. Russia is the most likely opponent since it strongly backs the case for an Eastern European.

Sadly, though, some of them might find her too well qualified for the job. On the evidence of their previous selections, the big five are wary of strong, forceful personalities capable of speaking truth to power. With rare exceptions, which include the previous appointee, Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General has been a bland presence on the world stage, saying nothing of public note and leaving the UN to lag behind on the sidelines of events.

They can see Clark would not be that sort of Secretary General. But they might not know how good she could be. New Zealand knows she does not campaign as well as she performs once elected. She was tense and often dour in our pre-election debates but once in office her intelligence and sound judgment were leavened with good humour.

She would be an equally effective Secretary General if they would give her the chance.