Andrew Dickens: Why we need to listen to Helen Clark

Newstalk ZB ,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 19 February 2019, 12:25p.m.
Helen Clark has waded into the debate over ISIS recruit Shamima Begum. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Yesterday a lot of the conversation of the world centred around Shamima Begum. The Islamic girl from Bethnal Green in the East End of London.  A girl who was radicalised, left the UK for Syria and the ISIS caliphate at 15 and now aged 19 is stranded in a refugee camp in the desert wanting to come home.

It’s not something I did talkback on because really there’s no debate. A spokesperson from the Home Office said what I think we all think.  Shamima made her bed and she should lie in it.

But, the law must prevail and the UK will probably have to let her back in.  Statehood is one of the hardest things to strip and if you’re going to deny it you’d be better off denying it as someone leaves and not as they try to return

So things got interesting when Helen Clark waded in.  First on Twitter, and then on this radio station.  She said we should have more sympathy for Shamima because she was radicalised as a kid, and she’s made a terrible mistake and she should be allowed to go home under the closest security.

I certainly agree with the last part.  I'd keep a very sharp eye on her.  She’s no reformed radical.  In the past four years she’s witnessed all sorts of things, she’s seen all sorts of horrors.  She’s had two children that have died and she’s pregnant with a third.  And she seems coldly calm and unrepentant about it all She’s only 19 for goodness sake.

But Helen Clark’s statements got a lot of people’s noses out of joint. And some have emailed me.  They’re saying what right does Clark have to meddle in the business of another country. 

One said that Helen Clark should never be heard on issues and also questioned why Clark’s former advisor Heather Simpson has had an office at the Beehive. An allegation has been around the traps that Helen Clark and Heather Simpson are the real power behind the Labour Party and that they hold undue influence.

So Heather Simpson first.  Or H2 as she’s known because of her close relationship with Helen Clark over decades.  She’s been her trusted advisor as Minister of Health and Prime Minister and her time at the UN.  A couple of years ago the Labour Party employed her to sort out their campaign and organisation.  She’s currently the chair of the review into our DHBs. 

Then there’s H1.  Helen Clark, who we know well.  A career politician.  PM for a decade.  Head of the United Nations Development Programme from 2009 to 2017. 

Both these women have a wealth of institutional experience and knowledge and you’d be silly to ignore that.  If anyone knows what they’re talking about on refugee issues it’s Helen Clark.  Simpson knows more about running an efficient government than most.

Wanting these women to keep their traps shut is a strange position to take.  Because it’s against their freedom to speak.  Believing that they have undue influence is also weird. They’re paid up members of the labour Party and if they have an opinion on where it should go it’s their right.  Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to agree with anything they say but you do need to defend their right to say it.

There’s a funny convention around regarding former leaders commenting on current issues which I’ve never understood fully.  Of course if they show up the current leaders then that’s unfortunate and embarrassing. But in the dialogue about our country I personally would like to hear from the people who know the most.


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