Dear Helen Clark...

Dear Helen Clark, I almost wrote "Dear Prime Minister", but then I recalled that you're not.

It'll take a while for us to get used to the excitable new chap.

Gosh, wasn't he just bubbling over with it all on election night? Bit like a kid in a toy shop. Endearing, really.

Still, I expect a year or two in the hot seat will straighten out that smile - dealing with the recession, Rodney Hide's crew (and the ragtag bag of associated social conservatives: the Sensible Sentencing Trust, Family First, For the Sake of Our Children), not to mention Tariana and Pita, and the smug, hirsute Mr Reasonable himself.

But, yes, that Rodney - bit of a worry.

Spends most of the last term on a TV dancing programme, disgorging himself from the ocean periodically like a cross between a gorilla and a sea elephant, or in the gym on a furious weight-loss programme, and emerges just in time to lead the charge, pre-election, against Winston Peters.

He accuses Winnie of all sorts of criminal acts - of which he is later cleared - then turns up on election night with 3.7% of the vote and five MPs.

Meanwhile, New Zealand First gets 4.2% and is consigned to oblivion.

What's more, unlike 95% of the world's best scientists and every developed nation, Rodney is a confirmed climate-change denier.

And when he's done with abolishing the Emissions Trading Scheme, he would set his mind to a three-strikes-and-you're-out (or, more appropriately, in) penal policy: sentencing to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 25 years for three convictions of offences that could be derived from your typical Saturday night pub brawl.

If that idea gets anywhere near the order papers we're going to need a lot more prisons.

I suspect it's no consolation, but most agree - except a handful of bitter, far-right misogynists who would find even Genghis Khan an old softie - that you have been a fiercely intelligent and dedicated servant of this country, perhaps one of our most able prime ministers.

And yet the way many of our Lilliputians prefer to remember you is for a speeding jaunt through Temuka, rather than, for instance, the punishing work regime you demanded of yourself and your ministers.

They'll also recall, of course, the fundraising "painting" that you put your moniker on, rather than the wisdom, knowledge of world affairs and independence of mind that kept this country out of a disastrous and unjust war in Iraq.

But, hey, what's a few billion dollars worth of military adventurism and a planeload or two of young Kiwis in body bags compared with a cockup like "paintergate"?

They'll forget that the reason you were fundraising in the first place was to attempt to even up the balance sheet between yourselves and National - with its stash of secret donations.

Mr Key will repeal the Electoral Finance Act - no bad thing in itself because if its intentions were admirable its execution was something of a dog's dinner - but I wonder if the electorate will really want to go back to the bad old days of non-transparency in electoral funding.

They will not forgive you either for supporting the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act - those fundamentalists whose potential influence has come in from the cold on National's coat tails. (And never mind that a whopping cross-party majority, including John Key, supported it, too).

On the one hand they want to throw violent offenders in jail for a minimum of 25 years, on the other they want to be able to take a whip or a baton or a leather belt and have the legal right to beat the living daylights out of a stroppy child.

That's all the so-called "anti-smacking" law did: it removed the legal defence to do this in the name of appropriate parenting.

They'll choose to remember these things, rather than the fourth week of holidays that came in on your watch, the formation of a New Zealand-owned bank not exposed to the US subprime mortgage fiasco, the creation of KiwiSaver in response to 20 years of poor saving, the establishment of a superannuation fund guaranteeing future pensions, the Working for Families tax-relief package that gave money back to ordinary families, the Free Trade Agreement with China, the repaired relations with the US, the retention of a national air carrier, the doctors' fees that are less than half what they were when National was last in power, the free hours of early child care, tax incentives for research and development: the list goes on.

Still, all's fair in love, war and politics it seems, and I suspect you'd know that better than most.

The people have spoken.

It was, apparently, simply time for a change.

I hope you enjoy yours.

Whether the rest of us will enjoy ours remains to be seen.

Yours etc.

• Simon Cunliffe is assistant editor at the Otago Daily Times. His views are entirely his own.

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