A tribute to John Armstrong’s last column

John Armstrong’s last column is presumably in the Herald today, and online John Armstrong: A Farewell to all that.

No journalist is always at their best but I have usually read John’s columns, insights and political reporting with interest.

Image result for john armstrong

Best columnist 2013

His last column is headed with an explanation:

John Armstrong has worked in Parliament’s press gallery for nearly three decades. For a good chunk of that time he led the Herald’s coverage of politics. Ill health has forced him to quit the job he loves. In this final assignment – which he set himself – one of New Zealand’s most astute political observers reflects on the politicians he’s encountered.

Then John writes his last political commentary.

Here is a message to the anonymous Herald reader who was so angry with a column I had written that he offered to drive me to the airport on condition I left the country.

Save yourself the bother, mate. I’m out of here. I’m on my bike (or at least, would be if I could get on a bike).

For the past 16 of the nearly 30 years I have been in Parliament’s press gallery, I have been locked in what is inevitably a losing battle with the ravages of Parkinson’s disease.

There will only be one winner. And it won’t be me who stands on the victory dais. Things have reached the sorry stage that this has to be the last regular political column I will be writing for the Weekend Herald.

He then recalls some of his most memorable political events and people. It’s a longer than normal column and is very interesting.

He then gets to our current Prime Minister and our last Prime Minister.

That leaves Helen Clark and John Key. They are head and shoulders above the rest.

Both had the array of attributes that are needed in a prime minister. Like a great all-rounder in cricket, the role demands one to be as lethal with the ball as the bat. Key may just outscore Clark as a consensus builder, but she had more intestinal fortitude when it came to pushing unpopular causes. But we’re talking at the margins here. You can argue which is the best until the cows have not only come home but are back in the far paddock again.

Both were faced with the most difficult decision a prime minister has to make — whether to send military personnel into a war zone. Clark did so in Afghanistan. Key has done so in Iraq. Neither ducked for cover.

So why quibble. The trophy for best prime minister is shared. History, anyway, may judge them by the massive contributions of their respective finance ministers, Michael Cullen and Bill English. Two formidable partnerships, for sure.

Not everyone at Kiwiblog and The Standard will agree with John’s non-partisan accolades for both Clark and Key but I think he has made a fair judgement here.

He thinks out democracy is stronger now:

There is another question that deserves attention. To twist an old Robert Muldoon quip, is New Zealand’s democratic fabric stronger now than when I first arrived at Parliament? Arguably, yes. MMP has made Parliament not only more representative of New Zealand society but also less tolerant of ministerial mistakes and mischief. Ministerial resignations are much more common.

It’s far from a perfect democracy, but as the saying goes it’s better than all the alternatives.

What is worrying is the decline in voter turnout, especially among the young.

The best way of improving our democracy is to improve engagement of the people, so this is a worry. But for those who do want to engage in politics in New Zealand in some way it has never been easier.

John waves for a new flag.

A parting shot. It was never my role to express personal opinion. But speaking as someone of English nationality, for heaven’s sake, let’s change the flag. While New Zealand is a young country, it now has a much greater self-confidence.

It is time to express that confidence and the nation’s separate identity by coming out from under the shadow of what is now an irrelevant foreign ensign otherwise known as the Union Jack.

But seeing how contentious some have tried to make a relatively simple flag change process his last shot does seem to have justified despair.

And while we are about it, it is long past time New Zealand became a republic. Unfortunately, I’m whistling in the wind on that one.

And he ends with his future:

As for me, there may be a lot more tweeting and even, God forbid, a blog, and maybe even the occasional contribution to the Herald. Otherwise it’s time for fresh voices from a new generation to issue the verdicts on our politicians.

Thanks John. Your columns have long been printed in the Otago Daily Times as well as the Herald so I have read a lot of your work. Your balance and insight have been laudable.

You have helped interest me in politics. And despite what the bitter and twisted at The Standard and The Daily Blog have said about you because you didn’t emulate Pravda I’ve enjoyed and benefited from what you have shared with New Zealand.


Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  17th October 2015

    Well said, PG. I didn’t always agree with Armstrong but he was rarely stupid and usually balanced. His long battle with Parkinson’s has shown amazing character.

  1. Twitter tributes to John Armstrong | Your NZ

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