Bill Veitch


Bill Veitch

William Andrew (Bill) Veitch (25 May 1870 - 1 January 1961) was a New Zealand politician. He began his career in the labour movement, but was a strong opponent of socialism, and rejected the militant views held by many of his colleagues.

Early life

Veitch was born in Port of Monteith, a small town in Perthshire, Scotland. After receiving a basic education, he worked for the post and telegraph service until 1887. He then moved to New Zealand, briefly taking up gum digging before returning to telegraphs. In 1889, he joined the railways, eventually becoming an engine-driver.

During his railway career, he became active in the rail-workers union, and in 1908, he became its president. In comparison to other unionists at the time, Veitch was relatively moderate in his views, but was still dissatisfied with the government's response to various grievances. Believing that workers' goals were better served by political action than strikes, Veitch contested the Wanganui seat in the 1911 election, and defeated the incumbent MP, James Thomas Hogan of the Liberal Party. Despite there being two labour-aligned parties contesting the election, Veitch chose to stand as an independent.

Parliamentary career

In Parliament, Veitch initially voted against the Liberal government of Joseph Ward. This was part agreement he had made with the opposition Reform Party, which had offered him support in his election bid. After discharging this obligation, however, he immediately became a Liberal Party supporter, voting in favour of Ward only two days later. He considered joining the Liberal Party, but when the new United Labour Party (ULP) was founded in 1912, Veitch joined that instead.

The following year, when the ULP agreed to merge with the Socialist Party to form the Social Democratic Party, Veitch was among those who rejected the move, and continued to work under the ULP banner. His primary concern with the new Social Democrats were clauses which required the party to support strikes, which Veitch believed were ineffective and unnecessarily disruptive to society. Most of the ULP dissenters were eventually re-united with the Social Democrats when the modern Labour Party was formed, but Veitch remained in Parliament as an independent. In 1917, he unsuccessfully contested the Wanganui mayoralty.

In 1925, he finally joined what remained of the Liberal Party. The Liberals were disunited and disorganised, and Veitch was a significant figure in the party's rejuvenation. In 1928, Veitch joined his faction of the Liberals with others led by George Forbes and Albert Davy, creating the United Party. Veitch and Forbes contested the leadership of the new group, but in the end, the position was given to Joseph Ward, a former Liberal Prime Minister brought in by Davy as a compromise candidate.

When the United Party formed a government, Veitch became a member of Cabinet, holding the mining, labour, and transport portfolios. Later, when Forbes succeeded Ward as Prime Minister, Veitch dropped the mining and labour portfolios and was made Minister of Railways. When United formed a coalition with the Reform Party, Veitch lost his position to make room for ministers from Reform. Later, when the coalition government devalued the currency, Veitch began to reject his party's leadership, and tried to convince William Downie Stewart to form a new party. In 1935, when Albert Davy launched the "anti-socialist" Democrat Party, Veitch joined it, but was defeated in his re-election bid by the Labour candidate. Considerably later, in 1943, Veitch stood for the National Party (the ultimate outcome of the United-Reform coalition) in a Wellington electorate, but was unsuccessful. He was awarded the 1937 Coronation Medal for services to New Zealand (NZ Roll of Honour, p.1095).

Veitch died in Paraparaumu in 1961.

Further reading

*"The New Zealand Liberals: the Years of Power, 1891-1912" by David Hamer (1988, Auckland University Press, Auckland)
*"Three Party Politics in New Zealand" by Michael Bassett (1982, Historical Publications, Auckland)
*"Labour's Path to Political Independence: the Origins and Establishment of the NZ Labour Party 1900-1919" by Barry Gustafson (1980, Oxford University Press, Auckland)


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