Denis Welch, (pic right), is a wordsmith from way back. Poet, novelist, serial maker of puns, journalist , (many years in various posts at the NZ Listener – political correspondent, arts editor, deputy editor), media commentator, columnist, and now biographer.
His new book, Helen Clark - A Political Life, (Penguin-$40), is extremely well written and makes for a truly fascinating read. Helen Clark declined to co-operate so the book is correctly called “an unauthorised biography”.
This often suggests a less than balanced, even uninformed account of the subject’s life, but this is not the case here.
Although the former Prime Minister declined to contribute several of her former colleagues and associates were happy to do so, and in any case one imagines that someone as meticulous and thorough as Welch must have accumulated a very substantial file covering major political figures and events in NZ politics over the past 20-30 years. I suspect it is to these files that he would have turned for source material. And of course these days so much information is only as far away as one's laptop.
Helen Clark led the Labour Party for 15 years, nine of these as Prime Minister, and it is these 15 years that Welch has concentrated on, hence the title of his book, Helen Clark – A Political Life.
It is , as the cover blurb claims, remarkable that no political biography has previously been written about the woman who so dominated the NZ political landscape for almost a decade. That has now been rectified and until the former PM writes her own biography or co-operates with someone to write an official biography, both many years off one would think, then this present fine effort by Welch will have to suffice.
It is a fair account of Clark’s political life, he is full of praise for her achievement in uniting the party after the divisive Lange/Douglas/Palmer years, while at the same time not being afraid to be critical and point out the lengths she went to over many years to gain power.
I admire the author’s achievement, his book was for me a riveting look at the New Zealand political scene since the 1970’s, and I am sure that whomever eventually writes Helen Clark’s official biography will find this book an enormously useful source.
If you are interested in NZ politics, regardless of any political preference or bias you may have, I warmly recommend Helen Clark-A Political Life.