by Susanne Kemp
In her April 15 presentation at the United Nations as to why she should be taken on to lead this august institution of imperialism, Helen Clark ended with the following: “I want to end with a Māori proverb from my country which says ‘He aha te mea nui o te ao? What is the most important thing in the world? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. It is people, it is people, it is people’.”
While many people in New Zealand are fully aware that Clark ain’t no people person – she’s such a cold fish that it took her years and a major makeover to even break out of the margin of error category in the polls for politician most preferred as prime minister when she first clawed and stabbed her way to the post of leader of the Labour Party. Her ‘he tangata’ dissembling was presumably relying on her audience not being aware of her record and how she doesn’t really give a shit about people at all.
Anyone with any experience of private girls’ schools will recognise the Helen Clark type. The teachers’ pet, the snitch, the goody-goody that no-one likes and that you know is driven by ambition to get ahead in order to get ahead rather than to help anyone get their rights. And that, driven by a totally personalised ambition, manages to advance herself.
For instance, in her UN job interview speech she presented herself as an advocate of women’s rights. Women’s rights is very ‘in’ these days with bourgeois women and the UN, and Clark is smart enough to know this and play the gender and glass ceiling card. Well, she had nine years as prime minister in which to reform this country’s anti-abortion laws, which bear down heaviest on poor women, and she did. . . nothing.
She had nine years to bring in real equal pay and she did. . . nothing.
Just compare her prime ministerial salary with the minimum wage of many female (and male) workers. Look at the case of rest home workers, workers like Kristine Bartlett who, after 20 years of rest home work, barely made the minimum wage and so had to launch a major court case to move things forward.
Or how about Clark’s comment as prime minister that paid parental leave would be introduced “over my dead body”.
Of course, wealthy women could bear children and hire other women to look after them. The lack of paid parental leave essentially affected working class women and working class families. The kind of people whom snobs like Clark steer well clear of.
Or how about women on the Domestic Purposes Benefit who had had their benefits cut by 20% in Ruth Richardson’s 1991 ‘mother of all budgets’? One of the first things a prime minister that gave a toss about women’s rights, especially the rights of the poorest women, would have done was restore benefit levels for solo parents, the bulk of whom are women. In relation to them, Clark did. . . nothing.
Or how about the unemployed women and men who were told by Clark and her government they better get on their bikes and leave where they lived in order to seek jobs elsewhere or they could find themselves deprived of the dole?
Or how about Thakshila, the 16-year-old Sri Lankan rape victim deported back to the place of her abuse by Clark’s government in 2006, despite many appeals that she be allowed to remain in New Zealand? And deported in a wheelchair as she was forcibly sedated That should provide an education in how Clark really views the rights of Third World women.
Actually, to be frank, Clark was so busy looking out for number one, she didn’t even care all that much for the advancement of bourgeois women in general. Her cabinets weren’t exactly brimming with women – too much danger of potential female rivals. Clark played the gender card only when it suited her personally. In particular when it suited her ambition, ambition which was pursued at the expense of any principles or scruples or concern about whose corpses she had to wade through to position herself at the top. She wants a few more bourgeois women to come after her, so she can be seen as some kind of ground-breaker; she doesn’t want them alongside her in case any of them might outshine her.
They say small things are important. And there are two other small incidents that reveal much about Clark’s attitude to the actual he tangata. One is that when she ordered her driver to speed so she could make it to an All Blacks match, she made the driver take the fall. The other is ‘Paintergate’, the incident where she was asked to paint something for a charity auction, got someone else to paint it and then put her name on it.
There are no doubt idealistic women (and men) working at the United Nations under the misguided notion that they are ‘helping’ the oppressed of the world. Helen Clark is clearly not one of them, however. She is working her way to the top, simply helping herself, like she has for the past thirty or forty years of her political life.
In a sense, she possibly is the ideal UN secretary-general. Lots of fake sentiment while upholding a thoroughly unjust world order.