Friday 27 November 2020

Spit & Polish: A National Party Story.

Consensus Politician: Following his victory in the 1960 general election, National’s second prime minister, Keith Holyoake, stretched himself out like a smug family cat over the sunny years of the early 1960s and purred.

THERE’S A STORY about the National Party that always struck me as important. It concerns National’s most successful leader, Keith Holyoake.

The year was 1938 and Holyoake was fighting to retain his Motueka seat. It was a particularly bitter campaign. After three years in office the Labour Party was seeking re-election on the strength of its impressive record of achievements and the promise of a radically expanded welfare state. National’s leader, Adam Hamilton, had described Labour’s legislation (due to come into force in April 1939) as “applied lunacy”. Labour’s Mickey Savage had responded by calling it “applied Christianity”. Everybody understood that an awful lot was at stake.

Even in the predominantly agricultural Motueka electorate, voters were keyed-up and anxious about the Election’s outcome.

Workers feared a return to the desperate conditions of the Great Depression’s worst years. The years when the main cities were convulsed by riots and unemployed men were sent to the hated “hunger camps” – where they toiled in remote locations to keep the Government’s meagre “dole” flowing to their families. So bitter was the social climate in those days, that a rumour claiming a right-wing MP had told the unemployed to “eat grass” was widely believed.

The idea of going back to those times inspired a dangerous mixture of panic and rage. When Holyoake turned up to an election meeting in Motueka he was greeted by an angry crowd of Labour supporters. Struggling to enter the hall he was showered with spittle.

Most people who are spat on generally emerge from the ordeal hating the spitters. It is to Holyoake’s eternal credit that he did not respond in this way. Instead, he pondered upon the intense fear and loathing that must have inspired it. He asked himself how bad things must have got; how much suffering people must have endured; to provoke such uncouth behaviour? Most importantly, he asked himself how the National Party could ever hope to be elected while people continued to believe that its members had once told desperate men and women to “eat grass”?

It took National many years to live down its association with the “Hungry 30s”. Indeed, it was not until National abandoned its plans to roll back Savage’s welfare state that the electorate was willing to vote it into office. Not that this concession signalled a softening of National’s intense hatred for the labour movement. Barely a year into its first three-year term, the National Government, led by Sid Holland (a former member of the proto-fascist New Zealand Legion) had plunged New Zealand into the “temporary tyranny” of the 1951 Emergency Regulations – promulgated to crush the staunchly left-wing Waterside Workers Union and its allies.

Through all this class conflict and Cold War paranoia, Holyoake held fast to his vision of a very different National Party. Conservative, yes, but not reactionary in the vicious tradition of Hamilton and Holland.

Recognising that a shift towards an accommodative conservatism was National’s only ticket to long-term survival, Holyoake’s caucus colleagues elected him to lead the party into the 1957 general election. National lost – but only very narrowly. By 1960 New Zealand was ready for Holyoake, and Holyoake was ready for New Zealand.

Thirteen years ago, I wrote: “Following his victory in the 1960 general election, National’s second prime minister, Keith Holyoake, stretched himself out like a smug family cat over the sunny years of the early 1960s and purred.”

Not that it was all plain sailing. There was a war to support (although not too strongly) in Vietnam, and a balance-of-payments crisis to be overcome. But, through it all “Kiwi Keith” remained the amusingly “plummy”, but always accessible, first minister of the “Half-Gallon, Quarter-Acre, Pavlova Paradise”.

Over the course of National’s twelve-years in office (yep, twelve!) the spat-upon man of 1938 oversaw New Zealand’s consolidation into a “property-owning democracy” of unparalleled prosperity and security.

As New Zealand’s most successful party, National is prone to forgetting how it became so, and what sort of leader is required to keep it so. For every Keith Holyoake, Jim Bolger and John Key, there’s a Sid Holland, Rob Muldoon and Jenny Shipley. For every leader who understands that a party calling itself “National” must govern “for every New Zealander”, there’s another drawn, irresistibly, to the sort of policies that make working-class voters want to spit on its candidates.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 27 November 2020.


John Hurley said...

As I see it you are talking about the hard liners and soft liners on welfare. I was walking back home from Bush Inn center and there's an ordinary looking young person hanging about when he sees me he holds up a sign saying "hungry and homeless". I don't give to those people but 30% of me thought "what if it's true"?

Personally I think John Key is the JR Ewing of politics. How can he be so denying of the effects of immigration. Life's one big party for him. He's like Paul Holmes and the super wealthy that have yachts in the Mediterranean. Left and right at that level are all mates and the ordinary person is just dirt to them. They exist in Media Space.

Fruit picking is a good example of the conundrum: "get the lazy buggers off the dole..." and go to some town where accommodation is $500/week; put your things in storage and find a new flat when you get back. Society needs training and a fair social contract. These [ ] (John Key) have pushed house prices through the roof they get away with it because the liberal left have sacralized migrants. John Key said that after the earthquake they released 20 years of housing supply and house prices didn't move (Chch) try doing that in Auckland, and what the [ ] for anyway? Take "property services" and construction out of the equation and what is left of the engine (economy) that is "New New Zealand". I'm with Michael Reddell: it is common sense that places (like people) have X potential in the long term but we only look at short term stimulus.

Shane McDowall said...

Rotorua's population growth stagnated about 40 years ago.

Over the last few years it has increased by several thousand.

This population growth has gone hand in hand with a very visible growth in Rotorua's Indian population.

Rotorua has a chronic shortage of rental accomodation and most of these new arrivals are not home owners.

If you think there is not a link by the sudden arrival of thousands of migrants from a Third World Asian country and Rotorua's housing crisis then you are either blind, stupid, a multiculturalist or some combination of all.

New Zealand's population hit the 5 million mark long before the demographers predicted and two thirds of that growth has been due to a surplus of arrivals over departures.

According to a bank economist this surplus is not due to returning New Zealanders.

Migration is not the only factor, and probably not the major factor, but it is a factor.

Restricting migration to New Zealand is one of the few levers our government has to ease the housing crisis.

But, between the blind multiculturalism of the left and the love of low wages and the appearance of economic growth by the right, the chances of limiting migration to New Zealand is about nil.

And, yes, if I lived in a Third World country like India, I would want to move to any Western nation stupid enough to let me in.

John Hurley said...

John Key. Population 4 million

Christopher Luxton on Skykiwi. Nov 2019.
population 5 million. 40% of Botony is Chinese. Flanked by Spymaster

NZ at center of world with enormous potential.