Hard News by Russell Brown

Pride and Astonishment

One Saturday morning in 1985, New Zealand television screened live satellite coverage not of some distant game of rugby, but of a debate at Oxford University, in which our Prime Minister was taking part. As I have written elsewhere, my response to what I was seeing was a mixture of pride and astonishment.

Pride, because a New Zealand Prime Minister was commanding a room; arguing on an international stage with wit, presence and intellectual virtuosity. Astonishment, because it was happening at all. We had lately emerged from the Muldoon years, when our Prime Minister was a small, intensely parochial man whose forays into the world were almost always cause for embarrassment. He was a tinpot leader for a tinpot country.

And yet, here was this big, booming man, full of a confidence that was not common to us at the time, arguing an independent foreign policy for New Zealand. David Lange said recently that in the years from 1984 to 1990, New Zealanders "stood up" in the world and began to assert an identity. I think that was how I felt watching him, right then.

I never got to meet Lange, although in the past year I've spoken to him on the phone a couple of times, and exchanged emails. I'm grateful for the ready support both he and Margaret Pope offered when I set out to make what turned out to be the first published transcript of that speech. I invited him and Margaret to the last Great Blend event we held, where I would be talking about the Great New Zealand Argument book where the transcript ended up.

"Good morning Russell," he emailed back swiftly. "I wish I could be with you but I'll be on the end of a tube."

Feel free to have another look at the speech; it still reads well. I agreed a little while ago to allow The Press to have it, and I guess all or part of it will be in the paper today. I've been reading his new memoir, My Life., and the prose is lovely. I recommend it.

I could say a lot more, but I guess it really comes down to this: I was proud of him.

Anyway, I was going to do my bun about the Sunday Star Times' shonky Great Morality Debate survey yesterday. But Keith has done it for me. It's not so much the project itself as the claims the paper makes for it, and its consequent pronouncements about what "we" think. It is, to put it mildly, unscientific.

By way of context, here's where the Maxim institute urged its followers to participate in the survey. And here's a column I wrote about another Star Times bout of frottage with the moral backlash earlier this year, when it ran a story headed 'Morals, ethics top New Zealanders' list of concerns' based on a 2004 wrap-up of the UMR Mood of the Nation Survey that showed nothing of the kind. And here's last May's post about the same paper's shabby and inaccurate lead story 'Sex at age 12 okay under law change'. Is there some sort of obsession in the editorial office?