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Did Lange's Personality Explain Why He Didn't Confide?

Did Lange's Personality Explain Why He Didn't Confide in his Cabinet

Did David Lange avoid confrontation and does this explain why he didn’t confide in his Cabinet over the nuclear ships row?

The former Head of the PM’s Department, Gerald Hensley, suggests this in his book, “Friendly Fire”.

And Former Foreign Minister in the Lange Government, Russell Marshall, speaking on “The Nation” agreed that was the case.

“He wouldn’t have a conversation, said Mr Marshall.

“ He couldn’t converse, he couldn’t exchange and negotiate.

“ I think that was why, although he had papers from Foreign Affairs, he was probably apprehensive about what would happen if he went to Cabinet.

“Foreign Affairs thought that he would say one thing to them and genuinely I think, but then he'd go out and appeal to the public.

“So that people did get a bit confused about that, and Cabinet was sometimes confused too.”

But Mr Lange’s widow and his former speechwriter, Margaret Pope disagrees.

“He wouldn’t have been a Member of Parliament, he wouldn’t have been Prime Minister if he was actually afraid of an argument,” she said.

“He didn’t like disappointing people, he didn’t like letting people down, and but he was always up for a fight.


Former Prime Minister David Lange did not tell his deputy, Geoffrey Palmer, that he was talking to The Americans about admitting a naval vessel, the USS Buchanan, into New Zealand in early 1985.

Speaking on TV3’s “The Nation” Sir Geoffrey said s that though he knew Mr Lange was working on the ship issue with the Americans, Mr Lange left for the Tokelau Islands in January 1985 without telling him anything.

“I knew that he was working on this issue, but I had no knowledge of the detail and he hadn’t talked to me about it at any length because he only got the request I think the day before he left to go to the Tokelau,” said Sir Geoffrey.

News of the visit leaked while Mr Lange was away and Mr Palmer was left to manage the situation.

He also found that here was a bundle of Cabinet papers from various Government departments discussing the visit.

Sir Geoffrey sent the papers and a note he typed himself with one of Mr Lange’s staff on an Air Force plane to meet him when he arrived in Samoa from the Tokelau Islands.

The note contained details of growing concern in the Labour Party and within the Peace movement that the Government might admit the ship.

The head of David Lange’s office during the ANZUS crisis in 1984 – 85 claims the prime Minister played a double game with the Americans and his own colleagues over the nuclear ship row with the USA.

Gerald Hensley has made the claims in a new book, “Friendly Fire.” >

“The Labour Party conference in September was very strong about the need, no ifs no buts, no nuclear weapons, and David Lange in public kept giving that message,” said Mr Hensley.

“That alarmed the Americans because they had understood from his private discussions that he was going to try to change things, and when they saw over September October a steady repetition of the fact that the policy was non-negotiable, there could be no compromise whatsoever, they began to doubt whether he was really serious about trying to find a way through.”

Sir Geoffrey though has contested claims in the book that he refused officials’ advice when he went to America to try and negotiate a settlement and also denies he said New Zealanders were a uniquely spiritual people.

Mr Hensley claims he has been told this by two Foreign Affairs officials who sat in on Sir Geoffrey’s meetings there in 1985.

But Sir Geoffrey told “The Nation” the account was garbled.

“The whole of Gerald's account of this is garbled I'm afraid because he wasn't there,” he said.

“The trouble with Gerald's book is that it is a narrative of an extremely good diplomatic history put together from diplomatic sources, many many sources. 

“The difficulty with it comes with an angle of narration.  It is the angle of narration of someone who is opposed to the policy, that is to say who thought that we should have stayed in ANZUS and if we had to sacrifice the anti-nuclear policy we should have done so. “  

Mr Hensley says Mr Lange asked the Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Euan Jamieson, to go to Hawaii in late 1984 to find a suitable US naval vessel to come to New Zealand.

“It was Lange's decision,” he said.

“Nothing ever went to Cabinet on this. 

“At this stage when Jamieson was going to Honolulu Merv Norrish the Secretary of Foreign Affairs offered the Prime Minister a draft Cabinet paper to brief Cabinet on where the negotiations were going, and David Lange waved it away and said I'll brief them myself, but he never did.”

The affair came to head after news that a ship visit was planned was leaked and Mr Lange eventually agreed in 1985 to stop the visit.


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