Bruce Beetham

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Bruce Beetham

Bruce Craig Beetham.jpg
27th Mayor of Hamilton
In office
May 1976 October 1977
Preceded by Michael John Minogue
Succeeded by Ross Jansen
5th Leader of the Social Credit Party
In office
Deputy Les Hunter (1972–77)
Jeremy Dwyer (1977–81)
Gary Knapp (1981–85)
Preceded by John O'Brien
Succeeded byOffice abolished
1st Leader of the Democratic Party
In office
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded by Neil Morrison
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Rangitikei
In office
1978   1984
Preceded by Sir Roy Jack
Succeeded by Denis Marshall
Personal details
Born(1936-02-16)16 February 1936
New Plymouth, New Zealand
Died3 May 1997(1997-05-03) (aged 61)
Palmerston North, New Zealand
NationalityNew Zealander
Political party Social Credit
Spouse(s)Beverly Clarke
Signature Bruce Beetham signature.jpg

Bruce Craig Beetham QSO (16 February 1936 – 3 May 1997) was an academic and politician from New Zealand, whose career spanned the 1970s and early 1980s.


A lecturer at Hamilton's University of Waikato and at the Hamilton Teachers' Training College, he was elected leader of the Social Credit Political League (which he had joined in 1969) in 1972, at a time when the party was in disarray and many were questioning its chances of survival. A brilliant organiser and an electrifying speaker, [1] Beetham succeeded in rebuilding the party, and by the late 1970s it was challenging the stranglehold on the two-party system of the long-dominant National and Labour parties.

Hamilton, New Zealand City in North Island, New Zealand

Hamilton is a city in the North Island of New Zealand. It is the seat and most populous city of the Waikato region, with a territorial population of 169,300, the country's fourth most-populous city. Encompassing a land area of about 110 km2 (42 sq mi) on the banks of the Waikato River, Hamilton is part of the wider Hamilton Urban Area, which also encompasses the nearby towns of Ngaruawahia, Te Awamutu and Cambridge.

University of Waikato university in Hamilton, New Zealand

The University of Waikato, informally Waikato University, is a comprehensive university in Hamilton, New Zealand. The university was established in 1964, and has a satellite campus located in Tauranga.

Social Credit Party (New Zealand)

The New Zealand Social Credit Party was a political party which served as the country's "third party" from the 1950s through into the 1980s. The party held a number of seats in the New Zealand House of Representatives, although never more than two at a time. It has since renamed itself the New Zealand Democratic Party, and was for a time part of the Alliance.

Early life

Born in New Plymouth on 16 February 1936, [2] Beetham attended New Plymouth Boys' High School from 1951–1955. He then went on to the Auckland Secondary Teachers College where he eventually acquired a BA (honours) in History and later an MA. Beetham joined the then Social Credit Political League, during the 1969 general election campaign, after attending a talk by Don Bethune the Social Credit candidate for Hamilton West. [3] Later, Beetham was elected as one of the vice presidents of the party in 1971. Also in 1971 he ran his first election campaign, an unsuccessfully attempt for a position as a Hamilton City Councillor. His rapid rise in the Social Credit ranks was complete when he was elected Leader in 1972. At 36 he became the youngest leader of a political party in New Zealand's history. [4] He presided over Social Credit's 1972 and 1975 election campaigns, in which they failed to get any members elected.

New Plymouth City in Taranaki, New Zealand

New Plymouth is the major city of the Taranaki Region on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. It is named after the English city of Plymouth from where the first English settlers migrated. The New Plymouth District, which includes New Plymouth City and several smaller towns, is the 10th largest district in New Zealand, and has a population of 74,184 – about two-thirds of the total population of the Taranaki Region and 1.7% of New Zealand's population. This includes New Plymouth City (58,300), Waitara (6,483), Inglewood (3,380), Oakura (1,359), Okato (561) and Urenui (429).

New Plymouth Boys High School

New Plymouth Boys' High School is a single-sex boys' state secondary school in New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand.

1969 New Zealand general election

The 1969 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of Parliament's 36th term. It saw the Second National Government headed by Prime Minister Keith Holyoake of the National Party win a fourth consecutive term.

Mayor of Hamilton

In 1976, Beetham was elected Mayor of Hamilton in a byelection to replace Mike Minogue, who had resigned to take up a seat in Parliament. [5] One of his early ideas as Mayor was to finance municipal projects with interest-free "rates vouchers", but the council, dominated by his opponents, passed a 20 percent rates increase instead. His frustrations caused by political gridlock, as well as the difficulty of simultaneously leading a national political party while serving as a Mayor (a post generally expected to be apolitical in New Zealand), were factors in his decision not to seek a second term as Mayor in 1977. Ross Jansen succeeded him.

The Mayor of Hamilton, New Zealand is the head of the municipal government of Hamilton, New Zealand, and presides over the Hamilton City Council.

Michael John Minogue was a National Party politician, lawyer and mayor.

New Zealand Parliament legislative body of New Zealand

The New Zealand Parliament is the legislature of New Zealand, consisting of the Queen of New Zealand (Queen-in-Parliament) and the New Zealand House of Representatives. The Queen is usually represented by a governor-general. Before 1951, there was an upper chamber, the New Zealand Legislative Council. The Parliament was established in 1854 and is one of the oldest continuously functioning legislatures in the world.

In 1977, Beetham was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal. [6]

Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal

The Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal was a commemorative medal created in 1977 to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Elizabeth II's accession in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The medal was physically identical in all realms where it was awarded, save for Canada, where it contained unique elements. As an internationally distributed award, the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal holds a different place in each country's order of precedence for honours.

Member of Parliament

New Zealand Parliament
1978 38th Rangitikei Social Credit
1978 1981 39th Rangitikei Social Credit
1981 1984 40th Rangitikei Social Credit

On 18 February 1978, Beetham won election to Parliament in a by-election for the Rangitikei electorate, to fill a vacancy caused by the death of its long-time member, the Parliamentary Speaker, Sir Roy Jack. [7] He retained the seat in the general election later that year, and the Social Credit Political League polled 16 percent of the vote nationwide, its best result to date. In the 1981 election, the party polled just over 20 percent – the best showing for a third party since the 1920s, but fell short of its goal of holding the balance of power; its support was too evenly spread to translate into more than a couple of seats under the First-past-the-post electoral system in use at that time. The party, and Beetham himself, strongly promoted a form of proportional representation, but this was not adopted till many years later. However this saw the addition of Gary Knapp as a second Social Credit MP, meaning the party could make more of an impact inside Parliament itself.

Rangitīkei (New Zealand electorate) New Zealand parliamentary electorate

Rangitīkei is a New Zealand parliamentary electorate, returning one Member of Parliament to the New Zealand House of Representatives. The current MP for Rangitīkei is Ian McKelvie of the National Party. He has held this position since 2011.

Roy Jack New Zealand politician

Sir Roy Emile Jack was a New Zealand politician of the National Party. He was a cabinet minister and Speaker of the House of Representatives.

1978 New Zealand general election

The 1978 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to elect the 39th New Zealand Parliament. It saw the governing National Party, led by Robert Muldoon, retain office, but the opposition Labour Party won the largest share of the vote. Reorganisation of the enrolment system caused major problems with the electoral rolls, which left a legacy of unreliable information about voting levels in this election.

In line with his party's policies, Beetham attempted to organise a barter trade deal with Fiji. Prime Minister Robert Muldoon vetoed the deal.[ citation needed ]

Political twilight

A number of factors resulted in a sharp drop in support for the Social Credit Party in the general election of 1984. One of these factors was Beetham's ill health. A major heart attack in 1983 curtailed his activities for much of that year and early 1984, and his disappearance from the public view made it possible for a new political party, the New Zealand Party (founded by millionaire businessman Bob Jones) to fill the vacuum. This party succeeded in attracting much of the protest vote that Social Credit had previously enjoyed. Another major factor was Beetham's support for the construction of the Clyde Dam, which was part of Prime Minister Robert Muldoon's controversial Think Big policy, and strongly opposed by Social Credit's rank and file.

Beetham lost his Rangitikei seat in 1984, mainly because of electoral boundary changes; suspicions have lingered since that the redistribution may have been politically motivated. (See: Gerrymander).

In 1986, Beetham lost the leadership of the party to Neil Morrison who had been elected an MP in 1984. The new leader, on the night he was elected, implied in a TV interview that the Social Credit national dividend policy was out of date and would be dropped. This was in response to a question from the interviewer, which he might not have listened to carefully. The next day Mr Beetham said he was considering resigning because the new leadership was rejecting basic Social Credit philosophy. This promoted Morrison to publicly retract his comments, and affirm that of course the national dividend would be retained as an important part of Social Credit policy.

Beetham remained active in politics despite losing the leadership. He contested his old seat under the party's new name (New Zealand Democratic Party) in 1987; in 1990 he broke away from the Democrats and assumed leadership of a new party, under the old Social Credit banner; in 1992, he attempted to put together a coalition of centrist parties, the New Zealand Centre Coalition, but was overtaken by the course of events as numerous new parties were formed around that time and crowded out the political spectrum.

His last electoral campaign was in 1996 as an independent candidate for his old Rangitikei electorate. Although placed fifth, he received almost 3,400 votes, which is a reasonable result for an independent. [8]

In the 1988 New Year Honours, Beetham was made a Companion of the Queen's Service Order for public services, [9] and in 1990 he was awarded the New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal. [6]

Personal factors

Bruce Beetham was known as a liberal on human rights, a conservative on moral and social issues, and a pragmatist on economic matters. His humanistic approach has been attributed to his childhood admiration of Labour Party Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage, while growing up in the Great Depression. [10] He disliked confrontation, preferring to work for consensus in decision-making. He was married twice, and had four children. A resident of Marton, he died of heart failure in 1997 at the age of 61 in Palmerston North Hospital.

Political offices
Preceded by
Mike Minogue
Mayor of Hamilton
Succeeded by
Ross Jansen
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Sir Roy Jack
Member of Parliament for Rangitikei
Succeeded by
Denis Marshall
Party political offices
Preceded by
John O'Brien
Leader of the Social Credit Party
Party renamed
New political party Leader of the Democratic Party
Succeeded by
Neil Morrison

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  1. Bryant 1981, p. 170-1.
  2. Saunders, John (5 May 1997). "Bruce Beetham a great loss to community". Manawatu Evening Standard. p. 1.
  3. Bryant 1981, p. 20.
  4. Bryant 1981, p. 35.
  5. Bryant 1981, p. 71.
  6. 1 2 Taylor, Alister; Coddington, Deborah (1994). Honoured by the Queen – New Zealand. Auckland: New Zealand Who's Who Aotearoa. p. 62. ISBN   0-908578-34-2.
  7. Bryant 1981, p. 95.
  8. "Electorate Candidate and Party Votes Recorded at Each Polling Place – Rangitikei" (PDF). Retrieved 6 July 2013.
  9. London Gazette (supplement), No. 51173, 30 December 1987. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  10. Bryant 1981, p. 15.