Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 6 6 May 1970
Meanwhile, back in the country
Meanwhile, back in the country
The Country Party was formed in November 1968 to "moderate the excesses of party politics in New Zealand's two-party system."
The Party's leader, Cliff Emeny, has long been involved in fringe group politics. He's 50 years of age, lives in Stratford with his wife and six children and has operated a life insurance agency since 1963, when an accident put an end to his farming career. Mr Emeny was a prominent member of the Liberal Party effort of 1963 and is President of the New Zealand Free Enterprise Society, under whose auspices the Country Party's inaugural meeting in Hamilton was held.
The Party's principles are fairly clearly expressed in the TV and radio election addresses by Mr Emeny printed on this page. Robin Bromby in a 1968 Dominion article suggested that the Party's philosophy is based on the "Arch-Conservatism of the 1930's." Mr Emeny, in reply, said "we are exactly the opposite, our policies are based on the most modern studies of practical free enterprise, studies that so far have not penetrated the hide-bound socialist researches, teachings and actions of New Zealand bureaucracy and political leadership." (Dominion—14 December, 1968).
Mr Emeny is not, therefore, happy to have anyone point out that his Party is, as Mr Bromby would have it, thirty or forty years out of date. He might, if pressed, confess that the laissez faire politics of the nineteenth century hold certain attractions for him. The Press, in an editorial, suggested that in fact the Country Party's policies constituted nineteenth century liberalism. In the 1969 election campaign, however, he and his fellow Country Party members were anxious to present the Party's policies as a distinct and new alternative to the bureaucratism and socialism of National and Labour.
A close reading of the Country Party's, platform as Mr Emeny outlined it in his 1969 election speeches will reveal distinct differences between this Party and the two political groups which have been dealt with extensively in the preceding pages. These are essentially, however, differences in method rather than emphasis: the National Front and the Nazi Party are groups of the radical right; the Country Party is a loose coalition of extremely conservative groupings.
The differences in emphasis are there to be sure—the Nazi Party and the National Front are, prima facie, racist groups. The Country Party, on the other hand, achieved its main strength (infinitesmal in comparative terms but significant in relation to the poverty of its ideas) through its specific attachment to rural interests—something no ultra-conservative group has done for a number of years. This particular emphasis in the Party's policies (and, of course, in its name) caused some concern to supporters of the National Party who feared that the Country Party would split the vote in rural areas and permit a Labour victory. As a correspondent to The Press (21 December, 1969) wrote: "If (the Country Party) . . . does contest the seats as stated, the votes taken from the National Party could result in a Labour victory, something the organisers of the Country Party would regret."
Leader writers in New Zealand's exclusively right-wing daily press were generally able to maintain a gently derisive tone towards the Country Party. "Could New Zealand afford to return to the days of cottage industry where life began and ended at the farm gate?" asked an Evening Post editorial. The Post chose to construe the Country Party as one exclusively concerned with maintaining "sectional interests"—namely, those of the farming community—and resisted congratulating Mr Emeny and his bucolic colleagues for their promotion of "free enterprise" (something which, in the light of the News Media Ownership Act at least, one would expect the Post to hold dear).
Under its present leadership, one could not expect the Country Party to make very much progress. There is perhaps a case for suggesting that a Country Party that bore less of the mark of an ultra-Right grouping might, as secondary industries provide an increasingly significant part of New Zealand's economic strength, find a place in the political sun here. However, it is precisely those characteristics which earn the Country Party its rightful place in this discussion in Salient of the far Right that will ensure that the present Country Party will never achieve Parliamentary representation. These characteristics are the premises which—once the nuances of emphasis (who or what are we afraid of?) and quibbles over methods (to smash the enemy or to merely force him to retire?) are removed—the Country Party shares with the Nazi Party and the National Front.
Mr Emeny's restrained political speeches suggest some of the premises Country Party policies share with the radical Right. A fear of conspiracists and power groups which so often pervades right-wing thinking is evident, for example, in Mr Emeny's reference to "business and professional people" on whom "Government and private monopoly" are "closing in . . . everywhere." Mr Emeny slips easily into the use of the noun "Government" without the definite article—a usage promoted by members of the National Cabinet to attach an aura of respectability and permanence to the collection of politicians which is at present steering this ship of fools. For Mr Emeny, "Government" is very much the omnipotent and omnipresent institution which the incumbents of political office would have us believe it is.
If the Government or bureaucracy or monopolies or whatever other monster it is that controls our destinies in fact has the power Mr Emeny believes it possesses, by the same token 'the people' are impotent. Mr Emeny's meaning in the constantly iterated phrase "forgotten people" is not entirely that intended in Mr Nixon's (and John Hayes') use of the term "silent majority". Mr Emeny is almost certainly aware of the appeal of such a phrase but, more importantly, he seems clearly to believe that the "forgotten people who don't want to be wards of the state and the playthings of politicians" really do exist. Mr Emeny therefore establishes a tautology which neatly sustains itself through a series of references to their (Government, monopolies, bureaucrats) strength on the one hand and our (the forgotten people) weakness on the other.
The feeling of impotence suggested by this theme in Country Party policy can, of course, be found in the policies of the Nazi Party and the National Front. For each of these groups, the response to the injection of Asian Hordes, the machinations of World Jewry, the Red Peril and the Great Big Melting Pot which is being stirred by the Negro Race is to lash out. The frustration of the Radical Right often expresses itself in policies of violent reaction: execute dope-peddlers, criminals, homosexuals; deport aliens; incarcerate women in the home where they belong and so on. Ultra-conservative groups such as the Country Party, however, express their fears and frustrations in a more muted way. Their plea is for a return to a better way of life—to a political system where the individual is paramount, to the pre-Welfare State.
The Country Party has, however, expressed itself on one issue—corporal punishment—in terms which were even more radical than those of Nazi Party leader Colin Ansell. Mr T.M.F. Taylor, the Party's President (Mr Emeny is the Leader of the Party—the precise differentiation in role is not clear from the material we have to hand on the Party) wrote to Truth (23 September, 1969) saying "My reasons for supporting the reintroduction of the birch are like Truth's—simple and straightforward. Law and order is (sic) sustained by one of two types of control—either by personal ethical compulsion not to break the law, or by force . . ." It would be interesting to prod the Country Party's leaders into statements of policy on such subjects as treatment of out-groups like the mentally ill, the blind, the disabled and so on, censorship, religious principles, and international relations. This might produce further evidence of a radicalism in the Country Party's 'philosophy' which might more closely group it with the Nazi Party and the National Front.
The immediate political future of the Country Party is not clear. Its formal structure (for what that structure is worth) will almost certainly collapse within a very few years. The sentiments which at present provide its core, however, will emerge again as the basis of yet another Democratic Party, or another Liberal Party, or possibly even an Economic Euthanic Party. The Country Party's present leadership, however, does not lack optimism. Vice-President A.J. Ambury of Hamilton, who contested the Waikato electorate (and polled 378 votes) said after the 1969 General Election; "We had only hoped for 10,000 votes, and we got 7,000." He said he was more than satisfied with the Country Party's showing. The Party, he said, "will certainly be contesting the next election—and more seats."