We Need To Talk About Norman: New Zealand’s lost leader

Denis Welch



Why do we need to talk about Norman? Because although Norman Kirk was prime minister for barely 21 months some 50 years ago, he still speaks to us.
His belief in the state as a force for good and his style of leadership could and should be powerful guides for politics in the 21st century.
Kirk was not a supporter of the neoliberalist ideology that has given us widening inequality, rising poverty and the virtual obliteration from public debate and policy-making of the workers who create this country’s wealth.
His idea of a healthy country was, famously, one whose citizens could realistically expect to find “someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for”.
But the social contract central to politics in his day has been broken, and state and society are now run almost exclusively on business lines.
This book, by veteran journalist and political commentator Denis Welch, is aimed at recovering what Norman Kirk stood for – a sense of government with a clear moral purpose, in which there is daylight between public service and the commercial world.

About the Author

Denis Welch was born in Masterton in 1946, and attended Wairarapa College and got his first job with the Wairarapa Times-Age. He has worked as a journalist most of his life, first for newspapers (including The Times of Zambia and The Times of London), then magazines. He was with the Listener for many years, notably as a political columnist during the 1980s but also at various times as deputy edi-tor (twice), arts & books editor and writer of hundreds of feature articles about everything from sensational crime to spreadable butter. He was also the magazine’s Wellington theatre critic through the 1990s.
His interest in politics led to two attempts to be elect-ed to Parliament, first for the Values Party and then for the Greens. He has had three books published so far – a novel, Human Remains; a biography of Helen Clark; and a collection of poetry, Childwood.
Denis Welch is a long-time lover of Wellington, where he lives with his wife, Robin Cohen. He works as a news bulletin editor for RNZ, writes poems and has been known to sing in the shower. His affection for the pop music of the late 1950s and 1960s remains undimmed with the passing years.


ISBN: 978-1-99-110305-5

Pages: 168

Dimensions: 229mm x 152mm

Format: Trade Paperback

Author: Denis Welch

Published: 14 June 2023


“Denis’s description of Kirk’s wondrous first two years in office – challenging French nuclear testing in the South Pacific, saving Lake Manapouri from raised lake levels, cancelling a Springbok Tour, opening up links to Black Africa and Asia, planting the seeds of the renaissance of te reo and the setting in train the righting of historical wrongs with the Waitangi Act – make stirring reading and refuel the pride and bring back into focus the sense of national identity we felt at the time. His book also serves as a blistering denunciation of neo-liberal economics and Rogernomics.

“More thorough than Michael King, less opinionated than Tony Simpson, more empathetic than Michael Bassett, less dense than Brian Easton and more eloquent than Chris Trotter, Denis mounts a powerful case for Kirk being one of our greatest leaders.

“Denis’s book makes it obvious why we were right to mourn Kirk’s passing and why we need reminding of what his death robbed us of – what we could have become as a country. We need to talk about Norman, indeed.”

Tom Scott, ReadingRoom / NewsRoom