New Zealander Helen Clark to run for the United Nations top post
The worst kept secret of 2015 and 2016 has been confirmed as fact. Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has been nominated by the New Zealand Government for the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations.
So who is Helen Clark, and is she capable of becoming the first woman to lead the world’s most important international organization?
The Right Honourable Helen Elizabeth Clark ONZ SSI was born on 26 February 1950, at Te Pahu, near Hamilton, New Zealand, the oldest daughter of a farmer and a teacher. She attended Te Pahu Primary School, Epsom Girls Grammar School (Auckland) and the University of Auckland. She majored in politics and graduated MA with Honours.
Her long political career began while she was just a teenager, as a protestor against the war in Vietnam. In 1971 she campaigned for local government Labour Party candidates and in 1973 became a lecturer in politics at the University of Auckland. She was not deterred by a failed bid for a parliamentary seat in 1975 and was successful in the Mount Albert seat in 1981 and held the seat continuously until resigning to become Administrator of the United Nations Development fund in 2009.
But Helen Clark’s achievements during the intervening 28 years, 1981-2009, were considerable. She rose quickly to Cabinet rank in the fourth Labour Government, serving as Minister of Conservation, Housing, Labour, and Health before becoming Deputy Prime Minister in 1989. Labour lost office in 1990 and she became Deputy Leader of the Opposition. After another Labour defeat in 1993 she challenged Mike Moore for the party leadership and won. Labour lost again at the 1996 elections.
Helen Clark continued to hold the party leadership, against the odds, and succeeded in winning enough seats in 1999 to form a coalition government with the Alliance Party, thereby becoming the first elected New Zealand female Prime Minister, defeating Jenny Shipley who had earlier ousted National’s Jim Bolger in a caucus coup.
Clark’s rise to the premiership represented the role that she seemed born to and determined to reach. Her leadership style developed strongly and she ran a tight administration for the next nine years, even though it was always a minority government with changing coalition partners. She survived several political scandals involving ministers, but her style was refreshing. She had no time for favouritism and ministers who failed were ousted. Even the Commissioner of Police was obliged to fall on his sword after allegations of wrong-doing.
The achievements of her government were wide-ranging. With her Minister of Finance, Michael Cullen, she kept the New Zealand economy strong and introduced many reforms. The community-owned bank Kiwibank was established, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund and Kiwisaver were established, the national rail network came under government ownership again and Air New Zealand was rescued from collapse by the government injecting capital taking a majority shareholding in the company. The Supreme Court of New Zealand was established to replace appeals to the London-based Privy Council. Numerous Labour Party social policies were carried into law, including a major reform of the public health service. Clark was also one of the original three leaders that initiated what later became the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.
In spite of nine years of strong and progressive government, 2008 turned out to be a difficult year economically for Labour as the country slipped into severe recession along with much of the rest of the world. To add to the government’s misfortune was the rise of the popular Leader of the Opposition, John Key. On the day, Key and National secured 45% of the vote to Labour’s 34%.
|Peter Blakeborough with his latest book|
Never one to be indecisive or to ignore reality, Helen Clark conceded defeat on election night and announced at the same time that she would resign the leadership of the party she had led for 15 years. She had been Labour’s first female leader and had led the party longer than any other leader. Two months later she was voted the Greatest Living New Zealander in a poll run by the New Zealand Herald.
In April 2009, Helen Clark became the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. During her seven years with the Programme she has travelled widely to many of the world’s poorer countries. She is currently ranked at number three in the United Nations hierarchy. In her bid to step up to the top post, her greatest supporter is her former political rival, current New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.
To return to the opening question, is she capable of becoming the first woman to lead the world’s most important international organisation? In a word, yes. In two words, yes absolutely. Helen Clark, it was said a long time ago, was born to be New Zealand Prime Minister. But it goes further than that. She was born to lead the world, and she was born to be the diplomat of our time. Of that, this writer has no doubt.
Here is an excellent interview with Helen Clark today. It was videoed outside the United Nations Headquarters on the windy New York day, so the the sound quality is at times a little difficult, but it is a great interview with a wonderful New Zealander running for the world's top diplomatic post.