Walter Nash

The Right Honourable
Sir Walter Nash
Walter Nash ca 1940s
27th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
12 December 1957 (1957-12-12) – 12 December 1960 (1960-12-12)
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General Charles Lyttelton
Deputy Clarence Skinner
Preceded by Keith Holyoake
Succeeded by Keith Holyoake
Constituency Hutt
16th Leader of the Opposition
In office
17 January 1951 (1951-01-17) – 12 December 1957 (1957-12-12)
12 December 1960 - 1 April 1963
Preceded by Peter Fraser (1950)
Keith Holyoake (1960)
Succeeded by Keith Holyoake (1957)
Arnold Nordmeyer (1963)
27th Minister of Finance
In office
6 December 1935 (1935-12-06) – 13 December 1949 (1949-12-13)
Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage (1935 - 1940)
Peter Fraser (1940 - 1949)
Preceded by Gordon Coates
Succeeded by Sidney Holland
Personal details
Born 12 February 1882(1882-02-12)
Kidderminster, Worcestershire, England
Died 4 June 1968(1968-06-04) (aged 86)
Wellington, New Zealand
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Lotty May Easton, married 1906
Occupation Clerk
Religion Christian Socialist

Sir Walter Nash, GCMG, CH (12 February 1882 – 4 June 1968) served as the 27th Prime Minister of the Second Labour Government of New Zealand from 1957 to 1960 and was also highly influential in his role as Minister of Finance. He is noted for his long period of service, having been associated with the Labour Party since its creation.


Early life

Nash was born in Kidderminster, a town in the English county of Worcestershire. He was born into a poor family and his father was an alcoholic. Nash performed well at school and won a scholarship to King Charles I Grammar School but additional costs associated with attending prevented him from accepting. Nash began employment as a clerk, initially with a lawyer in Kidderminster and then at a factory near Birmingham.

In 1906 Nash married Lottie May Easton and established a shop. He became highly active in his community, participating in a large number of societies and clubs. He also attended night school to further his education. By 1908, however, problems began to arise—his wife and son were both ill and a daughter died at birth. In addition an economic recession in the following year seriously harmed his business. The family decided to leave England, settling on New Zealand as a destination.

After arriving in Wellington, in mid-1909, Nash became secretary to a local tailor. His wife had two more sons. Nash's religious and political beliefs also began to solidify at this point, with the strong Christian faith he received from his mother being merged with a growing belief in socialism. Nash would remain a "Christian Socialist" for the remainder of his life, believing that the two components were inseparable. His political opinions were influenced by his friendship with prominent New Zealand socialists such as Michael Joseph Savage, Bob Semple and Harry Holland. Nash also became a committed pacifist.

Nash's financial situation deteriorated, however, when the tailor's firm that he worked for (and was a shareholder of) declined. Nash and his family moved to Palmerston North where he became a salesman for a wool and cloth merchant. Later he established a tailoring company in New Plymouth along with Bill Besley, a tailor from Stratford, although the business performed poorly.

Early political career

Nash had briefly been involved with the first Labour Party, established in 1911, but this association had been interrupted by his financial difficulties. In 1918, however, he helped to establish the New Plymouth branch of the modern New Zealand Labour Party and he became highly active. The following year Nash was elected to the party's national executive.

In 1920 Nash and his wife travelled to Europe, attending various socialist conferences. When they returned to New Zealand, in January 1921, Nash was fined for importing "seditious literature". Despite the reputation that this fine gave him, among his fellow socialists, Nash was one of the more moderate members of the Labour Party.

A year after he had returned to Wellington, in 1922, Nash was elected national secretary of the Labour Party. On arrival the party was found to have an all up debt of £220. The debt was settles when - together with Nash's own loan - John Glover (manager of Maori Lands) lent some £100 interest free.[1]

He is often credited with turning the Labour Party into a fully functioning entity; establishing an efficient organisational structure and paying off the party's debts. Following his announcement of "FIFTY THOUSAND SHILLINGS AND FIFTY THOUSAND MEMBERS IN THREE MONTHS" in the Maorilands Worker he worked hard to increase the party's membership.[1]

Nash speaking in New York in September 1942

Nash stood for election in the Hutt electorate in the 1925 elections and 1928 elections but was not successful until the 1929 by-election. He also contested the Wellington mayoralty. In Parliament Nash became one of Labour's main finance spokesmen.

Minister of Finance

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
1929–1931 Labour
1931–1935 24th Hutt Labour
1935–1938 25th Hutt Labour
1938–1943 Labour
1943–1946 Labour
1946–1949 Labour
1949–1951 29th Hutt Labour
1951–1954 Labour
1954–1957 Labour
1957–1960 Labour
1960–1963 Labour
1963–1966 Labour
1966–1968 Labour

When Labour, led by Michael Joseph Savage, won the 1935 elections Nash was appointed to Cabinet as Minister of Finance, although he also held a number of more minor positions. He was ranked third in the First Labour Government, with only Savage and Peter Fraser above him.

New Zealand's economy was in poor shape at the time of Nash's appointment as Finance Minister and he was very busy for the early part of his ministerial career. Nash introduced a number of substantial changes, in an attempt to improve the situation, including the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. In 1936 Nash departed for England to conduct trade negotiations. He also visited Berlin and Moscow.

After returning to New Zealand he became involved in disputes within the Labour Party about economic policy. In particular he was heavily criticised by supporters of the social credit movement who wanted their views adopted as Labour Party policy. Nash was also attacked by the more radical socialists in the party who saw Nash's pragmatic economic policies as too moderate. Nash, however, was supported by both Savage] and Fraser and emerged relatively unscathed. He gained the additional responsibility of implementing Labour's social security plan.

Nash at the Pacific War Council

With Savage seriously ill the first years of World War II were difficult for the Labour Party. Further problems were caused by John A. Lee a Labour Party member who launched strong attacks on its economic policy. Lee was particularly vicious towards Savage and Nash. Peter Fraser became Prime Minister after Savage's death and Lee was expelled. Nash, himself, reluctantly abandoned his earlier pacifism, deeming the war a necessary one. For a time Nash served as New Zealand's diplomatic representative in the United States. At the end of the war Nash attended the conferences to create the United Nations and also recommended that New Zealand join the International Monetary Fund.

As the 1949 election approached, however, the Labour government was becoming increasingly unpopular. Industrial strife and inflation] were major causes. In the election the opposition National Party, led by Sidney Holland, won power. Nash, however, retained his seat.

Leader of the Opposition

Shortly after the election Fraser died. Nash was elected leader of the Labour Party unopposed. The first major test of his leadership came with the waterfront dispute of the same year, where major strikes were damaging the economy. Labour's position on the matter was seen as indecisive—the party was condemned by many workers for giving them insufficient support but at the same time was condemned by the business community for being "soft" on the communist-influenced unions. Labour suffered badly in the snap election that Holland called in 1951 to reaffirm his mandate.

As Leader of the Opposition Nash is not generally regarded as having been a success. His primary talent appeared to have been in organisation and finance, and not in the inspirational leadership that Savage and Fraser provided. He was also seen as too slow in coming to decisions. In 1954 a majority of the caucus was in favour of a new leader but pressure from the unions allowed Nash to survive the subsequent vote.

As the National government began to grow more unpopular Labour regained some of its earlier dynamism. In the 1957 election the party won a narrow victory, assisted by its promises of tax rebates and the abolition of compulsory military training. Nash became Prime Minister of the Second Labour Government.

Prime minister

When Nash and the Second Labour Government took office the country's financial situation was found to be worse than the previous government had admitted, with balance of payments a serious concern. Nash decided that drastic measures would be necessary to bring the situation back under control. These measures resulted in the so-called "Black Budget", presented by Arnold Nordmeyer the new Minister of Finance. The budget included significant tax increases and generated widespread public anger. This was fuelled by the National Party claiming that Nash and Nordmeyer were exaggerating the extent of the problem. The fact that the extra taxes were largely on petrol, cigarettes and beer contributed to the image of Nash's government as miserly. The situation was exacerbated by Nash's frequent absences from the country, leaving Nordmeyer and other Labour ministers to defend the government's policies themselves.

Nash was also criticised for failing to act in the controversy over the 1960 rugby tour of South Africa, which country was under an Apartheid government. On the insistence of the South Africans the New Zealand team included no Māori players and that prompted huge protests throughout New Zealand. Nash, however, refused to step in, saying that the matter was for the rugby authorities to decide. This decision cost Labour much support.

In the 1960 election Labour was defeated by the National Party and Nash became Leader of the Opposition once again.

Later life

Nash, now nearly eighty years old, was not as active as he once had been. The death of his wife in 1961 also took its toll. Gradually, calls for him to retire grew more frequent. Nash, however, refused to step down partly because of a desire to continue his work and partly due to a reluctance to see Arnold Nordmeyer succeed him.

In 1963, however, Nash finally retired as leader of the Labour Party and Nordmeyer was chosen to replace him. Nash had favoured Clarence Skinner and then Fred Hackett to replace him, see New Zealand general election, 1963, but first Skinner and then Hackett died unexpectedly.

Nash remained the MP for Hutt until his death on 4 June 1968. He also became active in the protest movement against the Vietnam War, and denounced the bombing of North Vietnam by the United States. Funds for a children's ward at a hospital in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, serve as a memorial to him.

In 2008, Nash's great-grandson, Stuart Nash entered parliament as a List MP for Labour.


“I don’t want to get rid of poverty just to ensure that prosperity is maintained; I want to get rid of poverty because it is bad, it is wrong, it is immoral, it is unethical, it is un-Christian, it is unfair, and it is unjust, and it is everything that is bad. I mean involuntary poverty – where a man is told that his hands are not wanted, and that his wife and his youngsters will be deprived of the necessary things for health."[2]


  1. ^ a b Keith Sinclair (1976). Walter Nash. Auckland University Press. p. 64. 
  2. ^ ibid

External links

Parliament of New Zealand
Preceded by
Thomas Mason Wilford
Member of Parliament for Hutt
Succeeded by
Trevor Young

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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