Two academics and two former politicians give their views on Helen Clark's performance as Prime Minister.
DR JON JOHANSSON
Lecturer in comparative politics, Victoria University
Political scientist Simon Sheppard published a ranking of our prime ministers in 1998 according to their latent leadership qualities, parliamentary skills, party management, their crisis management and legislative achievements or legacy.
Richard Seddon ranked top, followed by Peter Fraser and Michael Savage, then John Ballance, with Keith Holyoake rounding out the top five. Applying this criterion to Helen Clark, her twin strengths are her parliamentary skills and party management.
Clark has maintained parliamentary majorities in far tougher circumstances than her pre-MMP predecessors. Labour's unity under her watch is likewise superior. Clark's legislative achievements are mixed.
Solid growth and prudent economic management during relatively prosperous times stands out, as does her liberal social policy achievements.
Clark has been a consolidator. Her latent leadership qualities reflect this. She has been a competent manager in stable times. Her crisis management has slipped during this past term. Clark representing our face to the outside world is her standout quality.
She is our best since Fraser. If Clark had better articulated the purpose of her Government in an emotionally compelling way she might not be facing this strong momentum for change.
In the final analysis Clark will be ranked very close to our top five prime ministers. If she wins a fourth term I'd place her ahead of Holyoake; if not, then below National's similarly pragmatic manager during stable times.
Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor
Head, Institute of Communication Design, Massey University, Wellington
Helen Clark has character, style and intelligence. She is verbally articulate, a quick thinker, and has demonstrated substantial knowledge and understanding of the major issues facing New Zealand. Her ability to manage her caucus has been impressive. Her debating skills on the campaign trail are second to none.
In TV3's political poll she has, since 1999, been consistently regarded by around 80 per cent of respondents as a capable leader. While at times Helen Clark has been a savvy reader of the public mood, at other times she has been woeful at acknowledging the issues that matter to ordinary New Zealanders.
Being a very rational person, she has had difficulty meeting their needs or concerns when those concerns don't conform to her own standards of rationality. It is in this area of being in touch with ordinary people that her popularity has slipped most over the past nine years.
The 1999 image of Helen Clark as a leader with a common touch has long since faded from our TV screens and newspaper pages. To get a fourth term she has to demonstrate that she can relate to ordinary Kiwis without it appearing as something she is doing for the sake of electoral expediency.
Former Alliance minister, National secretary of the National Distribution Union
A decisive moment in Helen Clark's journey to power was her address to the Alliance Conference in 1998. In stark contrast to the break-up of the National-NZ First Coalition that month, the reconciliation forged an unbeatable partnership in 1999.
The need for Clark to form her first Government with a left party is a blessing today. She needs to make people worried about what is at risk, and points of distinction with National over the Alliance's gains in that first term (like Kiwibank, higher minimum wages, and paid parental leave) are a big help.
Clark has reaped diminishing returns from subsequent election victories in part due to her preference for fixed-term relationships with blokes like Anderton, Peters and Dunne (whose parties will not outlast them) rather than long and mutually beneficial marriages with parties that can sustain support bases (these days the Greens and the Maori Party).
Labour's chances now depend on these independent political forces representing Maori and the environment. Helen Clark needs to dispense with the withering insults and transform the personality contest that the media (and even her own advisers) are making of this election into a contest between the public and the private, the citizen and the investor, independence and obsequiousness - making her our leader and not just Labour's.
Former Act leader and Labour cabinet minister
I have known Helen Clark since we were teenagers yet I have never understood what her mission statement is. I think she just loves politics. Helen is the most professional politician in Parliament.
She has never done anything else. And she is good at it.
What Helen Clark likes most is foreign policy, meeting other leaders and in particular the friends she made as the Labour Party's youth representative at the Socialist International.
Helen Clark has been successful in foreign policy. A free trade agreement with China is a significant achievement.
Domestically her nine years has been a period of drift. Productivity growth is now the lowest since records began. Government expenditure as a percent as GDP is now one of the highest in the OECD.
I am expecting expensive promises for the elderly, students and beneficiaries. Will it work? Clark's political masterstroke was to realise civil servants and voters who do not work outnumber taxpayers in the productive sector almost two to one.
Under MMP Clark does not need to beat National but just to get enough votes to form a government with the Greens, NZ First and the Maori party, (hence the support for Winston). It is a strategy that has worked for her three times.