Kiwi Polemicist

November 20, 2008

The National Party is losing its rural roots

The NZ Herald describes the makeup of the new National Party Cabinet thus:

The last National Government could name at least six farmers in the Cabinet.

Or if they weren’t farmers, they had farming interests and concerns.

Men and women like Jenny Shipley, John Luxton, Wyatt Creech, Bill English, Lockwood Smith and David Carter.

Don McKinnon was into farm management, and even Clem Simich lists farming as a former occupation.

This time around law leads. We are now guided by eight representatives with legal qualifications, including Simon Power, Judith Collins, Chris Finlayson, Wayne Mapp, Kate Wilkinson, Richard Worth, Murray McCully and Georgina te Heuheu.

And some are very highly qualified. Ms Collins, Mr Finlayson and Dr Mapp have masters degrees in law, while Pita Sharples, Nick Smith and Lockwood Smith all hold doctorates.

The agricultural community is represented, but only just. Mr English and Lockwood Smith still list farming as their other occupation.

National has traditionally been supported by the rural sector, but this shift away from having farmers in cabinet won’t endear the party to famers, and nor will National’s overall move to the left. Favouring lawyers over farmers also has implications for you and the rest of New Zealand.

Lawyers tend to want use laws to fix problems, simply because that is what they know. Farmers tend to have an earthier view of life* (sorry) and are inclined to look for for practical solutions to problems. Allow me to illustrate.

What will a farmer do if he has a cow that kicks him during milking? Will he call for a law banning the breeding of cows that kick? No, he will consider the options for a practical solution, e.g. restraining the cow during milking, culling, and removing the cow from his breeding programme. Compare this with the judge who cut his finger on a staple holding legal papers together and thereafter required that staples be applied upside down (this was related to me by a lawyer who prepared my will and applied the staple in the required manner).

Fewer farmers and more lawyers in cabinet is likely to mean fewer practical solutions and more legal solutions for New Zealand: I don’t know about you, but I am more than a little tired of legal solutions.

I am particularly interested to hear comments on this from Samuel Dennis, Ele Ludemann, and other rural readers. Comments from city folk are also welcome, naturally.


* I worked in the rural sector for a short time and I found that witnessing such events as the birth of calves, the shooting of sick calves, and a steer crushing a man on a loading ramp gave me a down-to-earth, realistic perspective on life that working in accounting never did.



  1. The Selwyn electorate has been a stronghold for National for decades, and usually represented by someone with a farming background (Jenny Shipley for instance). Now we have Amy Adams, who has married a farmer and lives in the country, but is originally from Auckland and is, surprise surprise, a lawyer by trade. She may well be a fine MP. But it does bring the issue home to me.

    I still think a bunch of lawyers is better than a bunch of academics, as we had in Labour, but I didn’t realise the decline in rural representation was so severe. That may explain National’s keenness for the ETS – the lawyers like it and there are few farmers to object.

    At the Canterbury A&P show this year National had the arrogance to use a banner with the slogan “Backing rural New Zealand”. That used to be the case in the past. But considering the swing among farmers towards Act this year, mainly due to National’s stance on the ETS, they don’t really deserve that slogan any more. They are still living off the successes of the past.

    Comment by Mr Dennis — November 20, 2008 @ 2:32 pm

  2. Thank you Mr Dennis, it’s always good to hear from the island that has the nicest people overall (that’s not flattery, I’m serious). I agree that the National Cabinet is better than the Labour one, but that’s not saying much.

    Perhaps National should have had a banner saying “B****r Rural New Zealand”.

    My comments on the ETS can be found here:

    I explained why Labour has so many academics in point 2 of this post:

    Comment by kiwipolemicist — November 20, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

  3. Where did farmers swing to Act? Voting isn’t broken down by occupation and there are no electorates which have only farmers but the rural and provincial ones swung to National: Waitaki: National 20,426 votes, Act 1,432; Clutha Southland 20,235 – 1,315; Waikato 18,532 – 2088; Taranaki King Country 19,323 – 1,634; Rangitiki 17,711 – 1,488; Selwyn 20,141 – 1,350.

    National’s deputy leader Bill English and the Minister of Agriculture David Carter are farmers; other farmer in the caucus are Lockwood Smith, Eric Roy, David Bennett (both past national presidents of Young Farmers), Nathan Guy, Shane Ardern & Colin King,

    John Key had a stake in a dairy farm, Paul Hutchison still does; Amy Adams is a farming partner, Jacqui Dean lives on a lifestyle farm, Jo Goodhew was brought up on a farm.

    I’m going from memory there may be more who are farmers or have farming backgrounds or interests.

    But regardless of what the MPs do there is no doubting National’s commitment to agriculture and rural & provincial NZ – Palmerston North is the only general seat outside the four main centres which National didn’t win.

    Do any of the other parties have any farmers? I don’t think Labour does and their agriculture spokesman – the one who was ranked 3rd in cabinet but did a 3rd rate job as minister: – isn’t even in their caucus.

    Comment by homepaddock — November 23, 2008 @ 2:50 pm

  4. Homepaddock:
    I believe many farmers swung over to Act based on what I have found talking to people while campaigning myself in the Selwyn electorate, and the increase in Act’s vote in the provinces this year confirms that. The ETS was a massive issue this year for many farmers. Certainly more people voted for National (as always), but there was a swing to Act too.

    Comment by Mr Dennis — November 24, 2008 @ 3:46 pm

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