Gordon Coates

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Coates (front row, second from the left) in the Coalition Cabinet, 1931 NZ Coalition Cabinet of 1931.jpg
Coates (front row, second from the left) in the Coalition Cabinet, 1931

In 1931, the Labour Party withdrew its support from United, protesting about various economic measures which it regarded as hostile to workers. Coates and the Reform Party subsequently agreed to form a coalition with United, preventing a general election in which Labour might have made significant gains. United's leader, George Forbes, remained Prime Minister, but Coates and his Reform Party colleagues gained a number of significant posts. William Downie Stewart Jr, Coates' colleague, became Minister of Finance.

In the 1931 general election the United-Reform Coalition remained in power, although Labour increased its share of the vote. Economic problems persisted, however, and unemployment continued to rise. Coates quarrelled with William Downie Stewart Jr over the government's response, and Coates himself became Minister of Finance. The Prime Minister, George Forbes, became increasingly apathetic and disillusioned, and increasingly Coates ran the government. Talk persisted about the emotional state of Coates.

In 1935, he was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal. [4]

In the 1935 general election the coalition suffered a major defeat, winning only 19 seats: Coates nearly lost Kaipara. The Labour Party, which had won 53 seats, formed its first government and Michael Joseph Savage became Prime Minister.

Later political career

Coates (far right) with members of the War Cabinet, 1941 Group of NZ cabinet ministers (1941).jpg
Coates (far right) with members of the War Cabinet, 1941

After the defeat of the coalition government, Coates withdrew from public attention to a large extent. He experienced a period of financial difficulty resulting from the sudden loss of income, but his situation improved when a group of friends presented him with a large sum of money as thanks for his long service.

When United and Reform merged to establish the National Party in May 1936, Coates sat as a National MP. Some of his supporters urged him to seek the party's leadership, but others within the party believed that both Coates and Forbes remained too closely associated with the country's economic problems, and that the new party needed fresh faces. Forbes supported Charles Wilkinson for the leadership, but Coates and his supporters rejected this choice, going so far as to threaten a re-establishment of the Reform Party if it went through. Eventually, Adam Hamilton, a former Reform member, won the leadership ballot by one vote.

With the outbreak of World War II, the Labour government invited both Coates and Hamilton to join a special War Cabinet, which would be responsible for matters related to the war's prosecution. Their acceptance created a rift between them and their National colleagues — the party replaced Hamilton as leader over the issue, and relations between Coates and the new leader, Sidney Holland, deteriorated. Coates strongly believed partisanship misplaced during the war, and attempted to convince both Labour and National to work together. He expressed pleasure when the two parties established a joint War Administration, with the War Cabinet serving as its executive body. The War Administration quickly collapsed, with National choosing to resign. Coates and Hamilton openly criticised this decision, and the day after their resignation became effective, [5] they rejoined the War Cabinet on the invitation of the Prime Minister, Peter Fraser. [6] Coates thus became an Independent, [7] and he decided that he would contest the next election as an independent National candidate, not as the National Party's officially-nominated candidate. [2]


Coates' health, however, had begun to fail. He had smoked heavily for most of his life, and had also developed heart trouble. On 27 May 1943 he collapsed and died in his office in Wellington. The Labour Party eulogised him more strongly than did his National Party colleagues, although politicians from all sides of the House paid tribute to him.


Coates' style lived on through his mentee Keith Holyoake, later Prime Minister himself (1957; 1960–72), who saw Coates as his political role model. Both held each other in mutual admiration and respect and held shared views on opposition to socialism and state control while supporting individual freedom and private enterprise. [8]

Coatesville a small town in Auckland north of Albany was called Fernielea until 1926, when it was renamed after Coates. [9]


  1. "Ruatuna". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand . Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  2. 1 2 Coates, Joseph Gordon
  3. "Kopu Bridge". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand . Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  4. "Official jubilee medals". The Evening Post . 6 May 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  5. Wilson 1985, p. 85.
  6. "Remaining at Posts". The Evening Post . Vol. CXXXIV, no. 84. 6 October 1942. p. 4. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  7. Gustafson 1986, pp. 303f.
  8. Wood, G. A. "Holyoake, Keith Jacka". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  9. "A Brief History of Coatesville". Coatesville Residents and Ratepayers Association. Archived from the original on 6 August 2007. Retrieved 28 August 2008.

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Further reading

Joseph Gordon Coates
Joseph Gordon Coates, 1931.jpg
Coates in 1931
21st Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
30 May 1925 10 December 1928
Government offices
Preceded by Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
Preceded by Postmaster-General
and Minister of Telegraphs

Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Railways
Succeeded by
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Kaipara
Succeeded by