Sunday, June 29, 2008

Margaret Pope

Following the NZ Herald article by Margaret Pope, repudiating Dr Michael Bassett, I have a small tale to tell about her. Quite simply I actually knew her briefly at university at around the same time as her relationship with David Lange became public.

Margaret Pope was a mature student studying law at Victoria University. She was in the same contract law class as I and to give her fair credit, she was witty and quite clever. Certainly you could see how Lange's speeches could come from this articulate and well-read woman. I was 19 at the time admittedly and of course, several of us would have casual conversations about politics. She made it abundantly clear that she despised Roger Douglas, and was quite devoted to Lange. Of course none of us knew at the time that she was Lange's mistress, that would appear in the papers later that year (1989). Pope did not come across as some hard socialist, but she also was uncomfortable with the policy focus on economic liberalism, she was supportive of the anti-nuclear policy. My impression was that she was somewhere between the left of the likes of Helen Clark and Margaret Wilson, and the Mike Moore, David Caygill centre-right.

Of course what happened between Lange and Douglas was simply that Lange used a press conference to repudiate a Cabinet decision, an experience that was bound to critically undermine confidence by Ministers in Lange's leadership. Why Lange did so is never going to be known, for those of us on the liberal right, we will simply believe he lost courage to sell flat tax and many on Labour's left contributed to his doubt, Pope presumably was part of that. Those on the left are likely to believe it saved the Labour government from splitting apart. As always, speculation on history at this level is little more than mental onanism - I look forward to reading Bassett's book because he has often come across to me as being intellectually honest, despite some on the left who prefer insults to actually debating him. After all, there is ample evidence that Lange became beholden to the Labour left on the anti-nuclear policy, wrecking NZ's relationship with the US by forcing Lange to backtrack on a commitment to the US to allow a non-nuclear powered non-nuclear capable ship into NZ (the USS Buchanan), because the US still maintained its "neither confirm nor deny" policy - but then I guess it was ok for him to do that, and to overturn Cabinet decisions when it suits him, because it suited the left. Indeed, to this day neither flat tax or nuclear ship visits are on the agenda of either major party. I doubt whether this was due to machinations by Pope, but I also don't doubt that she was unhappy with the outcome.

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