Sir Geoffrey Winston Russell Palmer KCMG AC QC became the 33rd Prime Minister of New Zealand in August 1989. He was rolled by Mike Moore in September 1990, two months before an election that Labour crashed in.
Guyon Espiner (RNZ) is doing a series of interviews with five ex Prime Ministers., starting with Palmer.
The Standard has a summary in RNZ: The 9th floor – Palmer
The Reformer – Geoffrey Palmer: Prime Minister 1989-90
NZ’s earliest living Prime Minister begins the series reflecting on the revolutionary fourth Labour government and his year as one of its three Prime Ministers.
Sir Geoffrey Palmer was one of New Zealand’s most prolific lawmakers and reformers, but a reluctant politician.
Imagine a country where the Prime Minister set the price of basic goods. Where the Cabinet, without having to even put it to a vote in Parliament, decided the wages you get and the taxes and interest rates you pay.
That was the country Geoffrey Palmer was determined to change when he entered Parliament in 1979. It was an economy, he told The 9th Floor, that no young New Zealander would recognise. … Palmer, a constitutional lawyer, describes Prime Minister Robert Muldoon as running an elected dictatorship between 1975 and 1984. It’s a big claim. …
Ultimately of course Palmer would get his chance to run the country too. He was Prime Minister for 13 months sandwiched between David Lange and Mike Moore, who a desperate Labour party turned to just two months before the 1990 election in a bid to save the furniture.
So what was it like to run the country? What is it like to be Prime Minister? “I found being the leader a nuisance,” Palmer told us. …
RNZ report and audio: full hour-long interview
Palmer is an essential voice on what it means to exercise power – precisely because he never wanted it and remains highly sceptical of those who do.
Palmer is worth listening to but not necessarily heeding. He has proposed a written constitution that doesn’t seem to have excited many, and he has proposed making voting compulsory – see next post.
Comments at The Standard suggest that Palmer is not revered on the left, but being associated with the Lange/Douglas era of reform is an instant fail for many.
Sanctuary lead off.
That went a long way to re-confirming my view of Geoffrey Palmer as a very intelligent uber-technocrat completely besotted with his own cleverness.
The man has the certainty and fanaticism of the technocrat, the arrogance of a self-regarding intellectual and the political nous of a fool. He was, and remains, a very dangerous conviction politician with scant regard for the opinions of the hoi polloi.
Listening to Palmer, the viciously toxic culture of arrogance of the Roger Douglas era Labour cabinet comes flooding back.
He followed up:
Nothing wrong with being clever, but being a clever clogs who projects that as an intellectual hauteur is IMHO an absolutely fatal and fundamental flaw in a (so called in this case) left wing politician.
Palmer’s ability to diagnose the ills of the world are not particularly unique, you or I could have just have easily rattled of the list of fairly trite topics – climate change, Trump, the crisis of democracy – he did. What struck me about Palmer was his unerring technocratic ability to correctly identify a crisis then just as unerringly use that crisis as a vehicle to push an agenda driven and completely incorrect solution.
For instance, the crisis of democracy and voting won’t be fixed by a written constitution or fiddling with how we vote. Palmer’s constant fetishisation of mechanistic solutions to political problems with their origin in fundamental clashes between democracy and authoritarian global capitalism is entirely keeping with the machine like mind and lack of imagination of the high priesthood of neo-liberal technocrats across the West.
Palmer is more suited to being a legal academic than a political leader or reformer.
He comes across as too theoretical and not practical.