When Helen Clark swept to power in 1999, she described her aspirations at the time to be a social democrat that “led New Zealand out of the cul de sac” of laisse faire government.

The Clark led government reintroduced unions to the centre of industrial relations, renationalised ACC and introduced lower rents for state housing tenants.

On defence and foreign policy Clark sought a more independent stance and moved the military away from a strike capability.

But it was Clark’s political and policy partnership with her deputy and finance minister Michael Cullen that built a legacy that is likely to stand the test of time.

The introduction of Working for Families, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund (also known as the Cullen Fund), Kiwibank, KiwiSaver and the renationalisation of the rail system all stand as a complete turn around of the policies of the 1990s.

It is a testament to the Clark/Cullen administration that the only way National leader John Key could win office was by promising to keep all of those institutions in place or tinkering with them at the edges.

The Clark/Cullen political agenda has also led National to occupy political ground it once would have considered as anathema — such as support for a nuclear-free, independent foreign policy.

Clark said as she stood down that she was proud of her record and had to take the bad times with the good.

After first coming to Parliament in 1981, Clark went through many ups and down.

When Labour swept to power in 1984 and was re-elected in 1987 she went into cabinet and held conservation, housing, labour and health.

Clark has described those years as fighting a rearguard action against the forces of Rogernomics

She was deputy prime minister from August 1989 to October 1990, when Labour lost power.

Labour was smashed in that election, but Clark rebuilt the party and took it back into office in 1999.

Three terms later, she wanted a fourth, but it wasn’t to be.

Over the weekend Clark admitted defeat saying her greatest fear was the Clark/Cullen legacy would be placed on the political bonfire by National.

The fact is that if John Key is true to his word it is a legacy that will last for some time to come.