Imaginations ran wild over affair with Lange

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 17/09/2011

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"There were warning signs all around," Margaret Pope writes. "They may as well have been neon – selfish – unprofessional – dangerous – dangerous – dangerous. I chose not to heed them."

Ms Pope today opens up on the most sensational affair in New Zealand's political history. Her new book, entitled At The Turning Point, tells some of that tale.

Soon after David Lange led the Labour Party to victory in the 1984 election, Ms Pope started as the prime minister-elect's speech writer.

And soon after that, the two began an affair.

"You can't enter into a relationship like that without understanding the possible dangers and working in the prime minister's office. The possible dangers are magnified many, many times," she says.

"The rational side of me knew that, but the rational side of me wasn't doing much of the thinking at that early stage."

Mr Lange, who died in 2005, separated from his wife Naomi in 1989. Years before their separation, the Pope/Lange affair was being whispered all over town.

The then political editor of The Dominion, Richard Long, spotted Mr Lange's car outside Ms Pope's home, she says.

"The thing is that nobody had any actual evidence. I think if they had had actual evidence, things might have worked out differently but they never did and they could go on whispering about it," she says.

"It was hurtful personally and it was incredibly damaging politically because it was used as a weapon against David."

Ms Pope recalls a television news item, soon after the separation was confirmed, which suggested that if Naomi had come to live in Wellington the couple would have stayed together.

Ms Pope believes that story "tipped her [Naomi] over the edge". She telephoned a Sunday newspaper with her own story.

"She was perfectly entitled to say what she thinks and that's entirely expected," Ms Pope says.

"But she related it to the political stuff. She said journalists should investigate this woman's influence and she just sort of wrapped everything up into one great difficult parcel."

MS POPE believes her own influence on the fourth Labour Government has been exaggerated.

Amidst the "political guerrilla warfare" that developed between Mr Lange and the reforming Finance Minister Roger Douglas, imaginations ran wild, she says.

"Most of it is absolutely the product of over-heated imaginations.

"Nobody knows what happened between David and me except David and me."

She is unrepentant about her part in the "war" between Mr Lange and Mr Douglas (later Sir Roger), which culminated in a planned "flat tax" being unceremoniously scrapped.

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"My only regret is that I didn't do more," she says.

"Douglas and his faction have got good reasons to dislike me because once I decided that he was dangerous, I did absolutely everything I could think of to get in his way and do him down."

Mr Lange resigned as prime minister in 1989 and married Ms Pope in 1992. The couple had a daughter, Edith.

"When you start looking at the detail of the time ... you can get in to details and quibbles, but I still think he stands quite high amongst our prime ministers as a memorable character for many reasons."

Ms Pope says she misses Mr Lange enormously and Edith, 15, talks about him quite a lot.

"Oddly enough, she's been doing history at school and he [Mr Lange] is quite a large part of the fifth form curriculum in history."

- The Dominion Post

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