Historic conservatism in New Zealand

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Conservatism in New Zealand is related to its counterparts in other Western nations, but developed uniquely over time. Advocates followed a political ideology that emphasised the preservation of traditional beliefs, institutions and practices.

Conservatism is a political and social philosophy promoting traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization. The central tenets of conservatism include tradition, human imperfection, hierarchy, authority, and property rights. Conservatives seek to preserve a range of institutions such as monarchy, religion, parliamentary government, and property rights, with the aim of emphasizing social stability and continuity. The more extreme elements—reactionaries—oppose modernism and seek a return to "the way things were".

New Zealand Country in Oceania

New Zealand is a sovereign island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. The country geographically comprises two main landmasses—the North Island, and the South Island —and around 600 smaller islands. New Zealand is situated some 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) east of Australia across the Tasman Sea and roughly 1,000 kilometres (600 mi) south of the Pacific island areas of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga. Because of its remoteness, it was one of the last lands to be settled by humans. During its long period of isolation, New Zealand developed a distinct biodiversity of animal, fungal, and plant life. The country's varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks, such as the Southern Alps, owe much to the tectonic uplift of land and volcanic eruptions. New Zealand's capital city is Wellington, while its most populous city is Auckland.



Initially conservatism was a philosophy used by the "men in possession" of a new country, but most of all it espoused the spirits of individualism akin to Herbert Spencer's theories. Prior to the mid-1870s, New Zealand's political factions were based less on ideologies and more on provincial allegiances. [1] This was to change however, with members of parliament becoming more identifiable as one of two groups—"Conservative" or "Liberal"—akin to Britain. The labels often walked hand in hand with each MP's stance on land policy. Nearly all those calling themselves conservatives supported freehold policy, while those labelled as liberals advocated for leasehold legislature. [2]

Herbert Spencer English philosopher, biologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist

Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era.

Provinces of New Zealand administrative areas of New Zealand between 1841-1876

The provinces of the Colony of New Zealand existed as a form of sub-national government. Established in 1841, each province had its own legislature and was built around the six original planned settlements or "colonies". By 1873 the number of provinces had increased to nine, but they had become less isolated from each other and demands for centralised government arose. In 1875 the national parliament decided to abolish the provincial governments, and they came to an end in 1876. They were superseded by counties, which were later replaced by territorial authorities.

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.

From 1876 to 1890 the conservative factions dominated the House of Representatives. The so-called "Continuous Ministry" governed almost this whole period, with two breaks from October 1877 to October 1879 and August 1884 to October 1887, when "Liberal" ministries were formed under George Grey and Robert Stout, respectively. The Continuous Ministry was governing once again in 1887–88, the worst years of the Long Depression, when Premier Harry Atkinson became very unpopular, even with the wealthy his erstwhile supporters. The ensuing election in 1890 was a disaster. An ailing Atkinson resigned and a new ministry was formed under John Ballance and his recently formed Liberal Party.

New Zealand House of Representatives Sole chamber of New Zealand Parliament

The New Zealand House of Representatives is a component of the New Zealand Parliament, along with the Sovereign. The House passes all laws, provides ministers to form a Cabinet, and supervises the work of the Government. It is also responsible for adopting the state's budgets and approving the state's accounts.

Continuous Ministry (New Zealand)

The Continuous Ministry was the government of New Zealand from 1876 to 1890, except for 1877–79 and 1884–87.

George Grey Premier of New Zealand (1877–1879)

Sir George Grey, KCB was a British soldier, explorer, colonial administrator and writer. He served in a succession of governing positions: Governor of South Australia, twice Governor of New Zealand, Governor of Cape Colony, and the 11th Premier of New Zealand.

The beginning of party politics in New Zealand was a setback for conservative-oriented politicians, worsened by the accession of the immensely popular Richard Seddon to the premiership. His opponents struggled to set up an equivalent full-scale organisation in competition to the Liberal Party. Conservative politicians operated under various banners in this period such as the Political Reform Association (1887–91), the National Association (1891–99) and the Political Reform League (1905), with Leader of the Opposition William Massey accepting endorsement from the latter in the 1905 and 1908 elections. [3] The conservatives struggled to contrast with appeal against Seddon and his Liberal political vehicle. William Pember Reeves, when asked of what differentiated the Conservatives from the Liberals in parliament, phrased them as "parties of resistance and progress" respectively. [4]

Richard Seddon 15th and longest-serving Prime Minister of New Zealand

Richard John Seddon was a New Zealand politician who served as the 15th Premier of New Zealand from 1893 until his death in office in 1906.

William Massey Prime Minister of New Zealand

William Ferguson Massey, commonly known as Bill Massey, was an Irish-born politician in New Zealand who served as the 19th Prime Minister of New Zealand from May 1912 to May 1925. He was the founding leader of the Reform Party, New Zealand's second organised political party, from 1909 until his death.

1905 New Zealand general election elections on 6 December 1905

The New Zealand general election of 1905 was held on Wednesday, 6 December in the general electorates, and on Wednesday, 20 December in the Māori electorates to elect a total of 80 MPs to the 16th session of the New Zealand Parliament. A total number of 412,702 voters turned out, with 396,657 voting in the European electorates.

Atkinson had some respite, stacking the Legislative Council with fellow conservatives, to control the Liberals from the upper house (often compared to the period 1906-11 in Britain where the Liberal government was blocked by peers in the House of Lords). Ballance eventually got his way with the Governor General by limiting the term of a MLC from life to seven years. However, the Liberals were not able to fully claim the upper house from the Conservatives until 1899. [5] The beginning of the 1900s was the weakest point in New Zealand conservatism. Helped by jingoism in the Second Boer War, Seddon was at the height of his power, reigning supreme over parliament. By contrast, the Conservatives were disorganised, demoralised and, by 1901, leaderless. In 1902 a Sydney newspaper said of the Conservatives:

Jingoism patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy

Jingoism is nationalism in the form of aggressive foreign policy, such as a country's advocacy for the use of threats or actual force, as opposed to peaceful relations, in efforts to safeguard what it perceives as its national interests. Colloquially, jingoism is excessive bias in judging one's own country as superior to others—an extreme type of nationalism.

Second Boer War war between South African Republic and the United Kingdom

The Second Boer War was fought between the British Empire and two Boer states, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, over the Empire's influence in South Africa. It is also known variously as the Boer War, Anglo-Boer War, or South African War. Initial Boer attacks were successful, and although British reinforcements later reversed these, the war continued for years with Boer guerrilla warfare, until harsh British counter-measures brought them to terms.

Sydney City in New South Wales, Australia

Sydney is the state capital of New South Wales and the most populous city in Australia and Oceania. Located on Australia's east coast, the metropolis surrounds Port Jackson and extends about 70 km (43.5 mi) on its periphery towards the Blue Mountains to the west, Hawkesbury to the north, the Royal National Park to the south and Macarthur to the south-west. Sydney is made up of 658 suburbs, 40 local government areas and 15 contiguous regions. Residents of the city are known as "Sydneysiders". As of June 2017, Sydney's estimated metropolitan population was 5,230,330 and is home to approximately 65% of the state's population.

They have hardly [in 12 years] carried even a snatch division on a question about a culvert on a back country road. They could hardly remember how to draft a bill now, and they have forgotten what success looks like. [6]

The Conservatives began to improve, with many initial supporters of the Liberals now defecting upon having now received the reforms they wanted in the 1890s. In the election of 1908 election, the Conservatives improved remarkably, gaining ten seats. Of further aid to the Conservative cause was the emergence of independent Labour parties who were leeching away supporters from the Liberals, particularly in cities. [7]

In February 1909 Massey announced the formation of the Reform Party, New Zealand's first true right-wing political party, in his attempts to establish a credible vision to there being a possible alternative government to challenge the long established Liberal dominance. The name "Reform" was not new, but it served its purpose to efface the "Conservative" branding and party-image with which Massey's supporters were viewed. [3]

The plan worked and following the 1911 election, the Liberals were ousted from power in a no-confidence motion, 41 votes to 33 on 5 July 1912. [8] Massey became Prime Minister and formed the first non-Liberal government in 21 years.


Below is a list of the leading figures among the right wing members of parliament from the forming of the Continuous Ministry until the establishment of the Reform Party.

Colour key
No.NamePortraitTerm of OfficePrime Minister
1 Harry Atkinson Sir Harry Albert Atkinson, ca 1885.jpg 1 September 18761878 Atkinson 1886–77
Grey 1877–79
2 John Hall Sir John Hall, ca 1880.jpg 187821 April 1882
Hall 1879–82
3 Frederick Whitaker Frederick Whitaker.jpg 21 April 188225 September 1883 Whitaker 1882–83
(1) Harry Atkinson Sir Harry Albert Atkinson, ca 1885.jpg 25 September 188324 January 1891 Atkinson 1883–84
Stout 1884-87
Atkinson 1887–91
4 John Bryce JohnBryce.jpg 23 January 189131 August 1891 Ballance 1891–93
5 William Rolleston William Rolleston (cropped).jpg 31 August 18918 November 1893
Seddon 1893–1906
6 William Russell William Russell, ca 1878.jpg 26 June 18943 July 1901
7 William Massey William Ferguson Massey, 1905.jpg 11 September 1903February 1909
Hall-Jones 1906
Ward 1906–12

See also


  1. Sinclair 1988, p. 108-9.
  2. Sinclair 1988, p. 164-5.
  3. 1 2 Gardner 1966.
  4. Sinclair 1988, p. 169.
  5. Sinclair 1988, p. 170.
  6. Sinclair 1988, p. 190.
  7. Sinclair 1988, p. 206-7.
  8. Bassett 1982, p. 3-14.

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