Bookcase : Working With David: Inside the Lange Cabinet

• Michael Bassett
• Hodder Moa
• RRP $59.99

As prime ministers go, David Lange was at once famously successful and famously flawed. His was not leadership style easy to, or for that matter even worth emulating. Lange’s leadership appeal, success and failure all lay within the personality, not the vision, not the belief and certainly not the process.
The story of the Lange-led Labour government of 1984 to 1990 is compelling reading. Not just for the insights into the politics of that hectic period in New Zealand’s history, but for the revelations of just how personal flair is not enough to carry the day. Poorly disciplined leadership can be both undermined and undermine itself. The book reveals much about Lange, it reveals even more about his cabinet colleagues, some of whom remain in power today.
The inside story of this dramatic interlude in New Zealand politics is great stuff. And while advocates of the political left and right noisily and unendingly dispute some of Michael Bassett’s interpretations of events, it is difficult to dispute its essential and everyday accuracy, the man was there. As member of the Lange cabinet, cousin and, most of all, historian, Bassett personally recorded every possible moment of those cabinet and back-room encounters, understanding that this story would one day unfold, in all its glorious and gory detail.
The book is, as political commentator Richard Long wrote in the Listener, fix for political junkies. It is that, and more. It is also book for students of leadership, including managers with aspirations. It is about the best and worst in people and politics. It is, therefore, compelling slice of reality, no matter how shocking that may seem to the naive who believe there is some semblance of organisational order in political leadership. It is Wellington’s Outrageous Fortune.
It is also story of just how much inspirational leadership can achieve before falling victim to its own inconsistencies and personal weaknesses. Lange was virtuoso performer who lost touch with his orchestra. And that too is lesson for leaders. Even the most gifted play better with well tuned and synchronous backing.
The leadership lessons contained in this fascinating and accessible account of relatively brief but nation-changing period in this country’s history, are legend. This is both political history and compelling story of leadership in action.

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