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Barry Soper: Mike Moore was one of a kind

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 12 Feb 2020, 9:16AM
They spoke highly of Mike Moore in Parliament's debating chamber. Photo / Paul Estcourt
They spoke highly of Mike Moore in Parliament's debating chamber. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Barry Soper: Mike Moore was one of a kind

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 12 Feb 2020, 9:16AM

COMMENT

One American trade representative confided in the 80s that he'd been discussing a deal with Mike Moore and emerged having signed something but wasn't quite sure what had been agreed to.

A lot has been said about Moore, who died after a long illness at his Auckland home more than a week ago.

They spoke highly of him in Parliament's debating chamber, even though most of those who spoke wouldn't have been there when he retired just over 20 years ago and went on to become the Director General of the World Trade Organisation. No mean feat for a man who'd left school at 15 and was an MP just eight years later.

Mike Moore leaving Government House after being sworn in as Prime Minister in 1990. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library
Mike Moore leaving Government House after being sworn in as Prime Minister in 1990. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library

That American trader wasn't far wide of the mark when it came to Mike. A light bulb moment was forever entering his wired head and by the time he blurted it out he was on to the next thing. After he got that WTO job he wrote me a postcard after clearly pondering how he'd been covered in politics and what he thought of journalists.

He wrote: "The trouble with you bastards is that you always publish what I say, not what I mean."

And that was often a problem for the man who has now been deified and will be canonised at his funeral service at his old Dilworth School in Auckland on Friday.

It's hard to forget a trade mission with Moore earlier in the same year that he was going to become Prime Minister, after Labour was spooked into thinking it could never pull it off with Geoffrey Palmer at the helm. It wasn't unlike the successful punt they took with Jacinda Ardern before the last election, only the chances of success for Moore were much slimmer.

That mission was through the old Eastern bloc countries, within months of the Berlin Wall coming down. Moore wanted to show how he connected with his political counterparts abroad and on one occasion he took his seat on the opposite side of the table to the deputy Prime Minister of the former Czechoslovakia.

Mike Moore knew he was on a hiding to nothing after stepping into the Prime Minister's job. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Mike Moore knew he was on a hiding to nothing after stepping into the Prime Minister's job. Photo / Brett Phibbs

His favourite epithet of the time was "Lake Taupō, Singapore, think about it." It's how his mind worked, when you gave it some thought he was comparing the size of the two, using it as a example of how well you could do, as in Singapore, regardless of size.

So to the Czech he opened: "Thailand, rice, tapioca, sago, Gatt, Uruguay, Europe, think about it." Not surprisingly the meeting finished with the foreign leader looking totally confused, along with the interpreter. If only he could have cottoned on to the Moorisms and the thought process behind them.

He was simply saying the trade pathway for staples from Thailand would be eased through the Gatt Uruguay trade round.

Moore knew he was on a hiding to nothing after stepping into the Prime Minister's job. Every Saturday morning during the campaign my home phone would sound far too early and picking it up I'd be greeted with a rasping cough: "How are we doing?" he'd ask. Not liking the inevitable answer, he'd hang up.

Moore couldn't understand how he could be beaten by a man who he said had read fewer books than he'd written. Moore almost re-wrote the history books three years later, taking Jim Bolger down to the wire.

He was one of a kind.

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