WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2005-08 > 1124104320
From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: LANGE; David Russell-13/8/2005<NEW ZEALND--obits the telegraph.co.uk
Date: Mon, 15 Aug 2005 12:12:00 +0100
The Daily Telegraph & the telegraph.co.uk
David Lange, the prime minister of New Zealand from 1984 to 1989 who died on
Saturday aged 62, became an internationally-known figure through his
uncompromising views on nuclear weapons; he was also remarkable, as the
leader of a nominally Socialist government, for his experiments in
On assuming office, one of Lange's declared aims was an "independent
international affairs policy, made in Wellington, not in Washington or
London". Under the terms of the Anzus pact between Australia, New Zealand
and the United States, America had to gain New Zealand's permission for
access to its ports by vessels that were nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed.
Lange supported the pact in principle; but when, in 1985, the Americans
sought permission for a visit to New Zealand by USS Buchanan, a
conventionally powered destroyer, he refused to allow the ship to dock
because he was unable to gain assurances that the ship carried no nuclear
The Americans responded with the charge that New Zealand was no longer a
"loyal and faithful ally" and threatened economic sanctions; it was also
announced that intelligence-sharing between the two nations would be
curtailed. In Britain, Mrs Thatcher criticised Lange's stand, but promised
that trade with New Zealand would not be affected.
Lange's policy was, however, popular in his own country; and in August 1985,
New Zealand - along with seven other South Pacific countries - declared the
South Pacific a nuclear-free zone.
A month earlier, on July 10, the Greenpeace organisation's 160-ft trawler
Rainbow Warrior had been sunk by two explosions in Auckland harbour, killing
a member of the crew. It was later revealed that the bombing had been
carried out by French secret service agents acting on official orders. Lange
called the attack "international terrorism", and demanded substantial
compensation and a formal apology from France. Later that year a New Zealand
court jailed two French agents for 10 years for their role in the bombing.
Meanwhile, diplomatic confrontation with the United States continued, and in
1986 New Zealand was formally ousted from Anzus.
David Russell Lange was born on August 4 1942 into a Methodist family in a
working-class suburb of Auckland. On his mother's side, his forebears had
come to North Island from England during the 1870s' gold rush in the
Coromandel fields; his father, a doctor, was of German descent, and had
abandoned a lucrative private medical practice to treat the poor.
Educated at the Otara Intermediate School and Otahuhu College, Auckland
University, where he studied Law, David Lange first became a barrister and
solicitor of the New Zealand Supreme Court. But in 1967 he went to London,
where he found a job as a junior accounts clerk with a reinsurance company
and, in his spare time, worked at the West London Mission of the Methodist
preacher Lord Soper; it was there that he met his future wife, Naomi
Crampton, a volunteer at the mission.
After returning to New Zealand in 1968, Lange set up a small rural legal
practice, devoting himself to the poor and to the Maori community of North
Island. He then returned to Auckland University to take a master's degree in
Law, graduating in 1970 with first-class honours.
For seven years he practised in Auckland, earning a reputation as a champion
of the underdog. Then, inspired by his work among "the powerless, the
moneyless and the hopeless", Lange decided to enter politics, and in 1977
was elected to the House of Representatives as Labour member for Mangere.
His rise was spectacular: he immediately made his mark as an orator, and was
soon appointed shadow minister of justice and opposition spokesman on social
welfare; in 1980 he became shadow minister of overseas trade, and two years
later was given responsibility for foreign affairs.
In November 1979 he had been elected deputy leader of the opposition, and
the following year he decided to challenge Sir Wallace Rowling for the
The attempt was unsuccessful, but when Rowling retired in 1983 after failing
to win office at his third attempt, Lange was chosen as his successor. By
this stage in his career, the 6-ft tall Lange had undergone a radical
transformation of his image. A compulsive eater, he had weighed as much as
26 stone; his enormous frame, allied with long, lank hair and thick
horn-rimmed spectacles, had made him an easy target for political opponents.
In 1982, however, he underwent a stomach-stapling operation which reduced
his capacity to eat, and he managed to shed a third of his weight; new
clothes and new glasses completed the make-over.
By the time of the elections of 1984, Sir Robert Muldoon's National Party
government was presiding over a stagnant economy: unemployment was at seven
per cent, and the nation's foreign debt was about 45 per cent of GDP. At the
same time, Muldoon advocated a nuclear capability, a view that was becoming
increasingly unpopular in the country.
Muldoon attacked Lange on the grounds of his rival's inexperience and
"bumbling incompetence" - he also referred disparagingly to Lange's
corpulence - but New Zealand's voters were not convinced: in a 91 per cent
turnout, Labour took 55 of the 95 seats to the Nationals' 38.
After the election there was a bank run, hundreds of millions of dollars
flowing from the country within only a few days, and Lange announced an
immediate 20 per cent devaluation of the currency. He also announced wage
restraints and a three-month price freeze, and ended farming and
manufacturing subsidies. His first budget, in November, reduced government
spending and offered more money for social projects. His new cabinet
included two Maoris and two women, and Lange decided to retain
responsibility for foreign affairs.
True to his Methodist origins (he was also a lay preacher), Lange declined
to move into the official premier's residence and instead rented a small
flat in Wellington while his wife and their children remained in Auckland.
He was a vociferous critic of apartheid, and in 1984 South Africa closed its
consulate in Wellington. The next year Lange banned the Springboks' rugby
tour of New Zealand.
Lange won a second term in August 1987 with a slightly reduced majority, but
his administration was to end prematurely. When he called for a pause in the
rapid rate of economic reform, he fell out with a powerful group of his own
ministers; in particular, there were well-publicised disagreements with his
finance minister, Roger Douglas, who was finally sacked in December 1988.
Lange's government had attempted to combine Socialist policies with
Right-wing economics. As well as abolishing farm and export subsidies, it
had privatised state-run enterprises such as the railways, the postal
service and telecommunications, and this had cost thousands of jobs. A
breakaway Left-wing party was formed as Lange's popularity plummeted. In
August 1989, four days after his colleagues successfully insisted on Roger
Douglas's return to the cabinet, Lange resigned, citing medical advice as
one of his reasons.
He was Attorney General in 1989-90 and retired from parliament in 1996.
Lange was appointed a Companion of Honour in 1990, and a member of the Order
of New Zealand in 2003.
An affable character known for his wit, if not for his tact, Lange is said
to have told a retiring American Ambassador, who owned a racehorse called
Lacka Reason: "You are the only ambassador in the world to race a horse
named after your country's foreign policy." He once remarked: "If you were
serious in this job, you'd go mad."
He was unfortunate to suffer ill health through much of his adult life. His
obesity was, he said, "as annoying as it must be for a woman to get a dumb
blonde tag. I felt that if I was enormous, then that's why I was noticed -
not because I was necessarily conscientious or good or bright or perceptive,
but because I was big." He had bypass surrgery for coronary disease and
admitted to alcoholism in 1999. He died from complications arising from
David Lange married Naomi Crampton, with whom he had two sons and a
daughter, in 1968. After they divorced, he married, in 1992, his former
policy adviser, Margaret Pope, with whom he had another daughter.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.
|LANGE; David Russell-13/8/2005<NEW ZEALND--obits the telegraph.co.uk by "Peter_McCrae" <>|