Country Party (New Zealand)


Country Party (New Zealand)

The Country Party of New Zealand was a political party which based itself around rural voters. It was represented in Parliament from 1928 to 1938. Its policies were a mixture of rural advocacy and social credit theory.

The Country Party had its origins in the Auckland Farmers' Union, a branch of the New Zealand Farmers' Union which covered most of the upper North Island. In the 1920s, members of this branch increasingly came to believe that the Reform Party, which traditionally enjoyed much support in rural areas, was now putting the interests of farmers behind those of businesses in the city. The Auckland branch was also strongly influenced by the social credit theory of monetary reform, promoted by C. H. Douglas. Many farmers believed that the country's financial system did not treat them fairly, and that they were being exploited by big-city bankers and moneylenders.

The Auckland branch grew increasingly frustrated with the Farmers' Union leadership, which did not support having an independent rural party. Eventually members of the Auckland branch established the Country Party without the Union's backing.[1] In 1928, the branch broke away from the Union altogether, giving its full backing to the Country Party. Because of this geographical basis, the Country Party was largely confined to the upper North Island.

In the 1925 elections, the Country Party fielded five candidates, but only won 0.3% of the vote. In the 1928 elections, however, the party won 1.6% of the vote, and Harold Rushworth, its candidate in the Bay of Islands seat, was narrowly elected. In Parliament, the Country Party tended to align itself with the growing Labour Party, primarily because both parties were distrustful of the financial and banking industries.

In the 1931 elections, the Country Party increased its share of the vote to 2.3%, and Rushworth kept his seat. In the 1935 elections, the party's share of the vote dropped slightly, but it won two seats — Rushworth, aided by the Labour Party's decision not to stand a candidate against him, was re-elected, while Arthur Sexton was elected in the Franklin electorate.

In the 1938 elections, the Country Party lost both its seats as Labour decided to contest them, with Rushworth retiring (partly because of Labour's intervention) and Sexton being defeated by National. The party won only 0.2% of the vote, and disappeared soon afterwards. Most rural voters who had supported it turned to the National Party, which incorporated the former Reform Party. Later, however, the Social Credit Party would gain a certain amount of success in rural areas using much the same formula — some see the Country Party as a forerunner to the more long-lived Social Credit.

References

  • Political Parties in New Zealand by R. S. Milne, pp. 76-78 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1966)

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