Watching last weekend's current affairs shows, at times I wondered if I'd stumbled on a Doctor Who repeat by mistake.

First it was all aboard the Tardis for a flashback to the Cold War era, with Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters being blackguarded for being soft on the Russkies.

Then Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern got the third degree for failing to wrap herself in the Union Jack and sing Rule Britannia to Mother England in her present spat with Russia.

It was as if Ardern was expected to dust off Michael Joseph Savage's World War II pledge to blindly go where Britain goes, "with union of hearts and wills." It was so quaintly last century ... as if the murderous 1985 Rainbow Warrior bombing in Auckland, and Britain's refusal to denounce the French for this act of state terrorism, had never happened.


Soon after Savage had pledged our oneness with the imperial cause in 1939, young nationalist poet Allen Curnow stood in front of a moa skeleton in Canterbury Museum and penned the hope that "some child in a marvellous year, Will learn the trick of standing upright here".

I liked to think that the combination of the British turning their backs on us to join the Common Market, the Lange Government's face-off with the United States over nuclear ship visits, and the lack of British support after the Rainbow Warrior outrage, had together jolted us into that "marvellous year". The Rainbow Warrior bombing in particular had been a wake-up call to the realities of the grown-up world.

Yet 30 years on, Opposition politicians and parts of the media were now trying to put us back into colonial diapers, criticising the Government for not blindly going wherever Britain decides to go in its "punishing" of Russia for allegedly poisoning Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter on UK soil.

Behind the scenes, senior diplomats from the British High Commission in Wellington even lobbied selected journalists, pushing their case for Russian guilt and the need for a united stand against such evil-doing.

It was a very different story back in 1985 when the Lange Government appealed for British support when their French ally committed an equally outrageous act of state terrorism in downtown Auckland. Even though the New Zealand police had two of the perpetrators in jail within two days of the bombing, it took the French more than two months to admit guilt. As for the British, they seemed more upset that the French, their new trading partners, had spent those months busy planting stories in the French media that the bombing had been the work of UK agents!

When official documents were released 20 years later, we find Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe writing at the time: "We have no wish to rub salt in French wounds, nor do we wish to appear more aggrieved than Greenpeace. We took care to avoid impugning France prior to the official French admission of responsibility."

Even after French PM Laurent Fabius admitted French guilt in late September, the British response was to seek compensation on behalf of Greenpeace because the boat was British registered.

Howe later wrote the Government had avoided further public comment on the basis of "least said, soonest mended".


A month later, when asked in Parliament to condemn the French for this act of terrorism, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher replied: "I think that the French Government have already made their apologies on that matter. We are doing all that we possibly can to assist New Zealand in finding the facts."

Lange later wrote: "The leaders of the West expressed not a moment's outrage about terrorism directed by a government against opponents of nuclear deterrence." Nor did the leaders of the free world do anything when the French, to recover the imprisoned bombers, threatened to kill NZ's trade with Europe. "We were the victims of extortion," wrote Lange, "and there was nothing I could do about it."

It was a quick lesson in "standing upright" and after 30 years we've got the hang of it. Let's keep it that way.