New Zealand warms to Labour's cool Clark

HAD THE outcome been different, a racecourse might have seemed a rash choice of venue for an election night party. In the event, Helen Clark, the Labour Party leader who had been hotly tipped to be New Zealand's new Prime Minister, romped safely to victory early today.

Drawing a line under nine years of conservative rule, the country voted decisively for change yesterday, ousting Jenny Shipley's National Party government and giving Labour the largest number of seats in the parliament in Wellington.

Coalition talks will begin in Auckland today, but there seems little doubt that Ms Clark - almost dumped by her own party three years ago - will lead New Zealand into the new millennium at the head of a centre- left government.

Addressing a euphoric crowd of party workers and supporters at Avondale Racecourse, in her Mount Albert constituency in west Auckland, she said: "For me, this campaign has been about articulating basic New Zealand values of fairness and opportunity and security. It has been about a vision for a better society."

Gracious in defeat, Mrs Shipley conceded at 11.30pm, telephoning Ms Clark to offer her congratulations. Shortly afterwards, she told a National Party gathering in the town of Ashburton, in her South Island electorate: "New Zealanders have decided that it is not our turn."

With the count almost completed, Labour had 38.9 per cent of the vote and its left-wing ally, the Alliance, 7.9 per cent, giving them a six- seat majority in the 120-seat, single-chamber parliament. National was on 30.7 per cent.

Although expected, it was an exciting conclusion to the first contest in a Western democracy between two female party leaders. Ms Clark, a former political science lecturer, can claim the distinction of being New Zealand's first elected woman prime minister; Mrs Shipley, 47, came to office after mounting a coup against her predecessor, Jim Bolger, two years ago.

A poised and cool personality, Ms Clark, 49, is widely admired for her intellectual skills but lacks Mrs Shipley's populist appeal. A lover of opera and cross-country skiing, she is said by critics to be out of touch with the lives of ordinary New Zealanders.

In Avondale last night, though, the party faithful could not get enough of her. Chanting "Helen, Helen," they showered her with red rose petals and fought for the chance to shake her hand. One supporter, standing on a chair for a better view, was knocked over in the crush.

Ms Clark's most committed fan was a heavily pregnant woman whose contractions began as the early results filtered in. "They're coming every 20 minutes," she said. "I just want to see Helen, then I'll get down the hospital."

The night brought some dramatic upsets. Winston Peters, the maverick Maori politician whose party, New Zealand First, held the balance of power after the last election, lost the Tauranga seat that he had represented for 15 years. The right-wing ACT New Zealand party, which campaigned for restrictions on Maori land claims, polled just 7 per cent, significantly less than anticipated.

The Green Party, which had been expected to send MPs to Wellington for the first time, fell just short of the 4.9 per cent required to give it seats under the country's system of proportional representation. It also failed, after a knife-edge contest, to take the key constituency of Coromandel from National.

Eighteen Maori MPs were elected, the highest number this century. One of parliament's more unusual new members will be Georgina Beyer, a former stripper and male prostitute who was George Bertrand until she had a sex change operation. She is now a Labour MP.

Ms Clark campaigned on a moderate platform, promising more money for health and education and a tax rise for high earners. A politician of pragmatism rather than bold ideas, she models herself on Scandinavian social democrats such as Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Norwegian prime minister.

Government will not be an easy ride, thanks to the PR system, which makes it virtually impossible for one party to secure an overall majority. Although the Alliance is committed to working with Labour, there are significant policy differences be- tween the two parties and personal relations between Ms Clark and Jim Anderton, the Alliance leader, are frosty.

Mr Anderton, who would be deputy prime minister in a coalition government, quit the Labour Party in 1989, disgusted by the free market reforms that it had instituted in government.

Last night Ms Clark was conciliatory, declaring that "the level of working relations we have had with Jim Anderton and his party has made tonight's result possible". She said that she expected coalition talks to be completed by Christmas.

A difficult few weeks lie ahead. But Ms Clark, a keen hiker who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this year, has already scaled her most challenging political peak.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Advisor - Opportunities Available Nationwide

£15000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to ...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Special Needs Support Worker

£12 - £14 per hour: Recruitment Genius: We are looking for someone to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

£15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Sewing Technician

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This market leader in Medical Devices is...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence