1941: The General Election That Never Was
November 25, 2018
Possibly part of the Labour 1.0 Prime Ministerial penthouse on parliament’s rooftop? Seldom mentioned, it seems to have been a sort of palatial pad for a ‘shaken not stirred’ political elites. Nash, at the time of presentation, was our State’s Minister of Finance.
Solid Oak Manrobe formerly owned by Prime Minister Hon Walter Nash.
Metal plaque inside reads “Presented to Hon .W.Nash by His Parliamentary Colleagues as a mark of their Esteem. 8th October 1941”
Furniture around Parliament was scarce at this time, and for decades yet to come too. The opposition in particular had shabby accommodations and limited furniture that might have been around before Wellington was ever the capital! Slapping Nash’s name on the side might be a way to protect a stick of their own furniture from being pilfered in the ritual, literal, musical chairs game at the change of Governments.
1941: No Election For You
Indeed, it had been three years since the last General Election so it was time for another to be called. Instead, on the pretext of the War, the Prolongation of Parliament Act was affected on 17 October. This pushed the General Election forward until 1 November 1942 “and no longer.” Of course, New Zealand laws are simply an expensive version of Improv Comedy and Labour 1.0 pulled a similar trick before their time was up. In the end they went a full five years of avoiding elections.
Announced on October 15th, law by the 17th, Nash’s little stick of furniture (Start price $695.00) on the 8th may be much more historically significant than it at first appears. Within the all-important primate dominance hierarchy games (where initiative is disputed by speechifying in the debating chamber and territory is held in terms of what chambers are occupied and which sticks of furniture your team holds) this object was a symbol.
The Trojan Mandrobe
Word of Nash receiving this artefact would spread and indicate that Labour 1.0 was preparing for the 1941 General Election. The Opposition would read that into it, and so would the Press Gallery. Getting grabby, including name-plating your furniture, was doubtless a traditional pre-election ritual from 1856 all the way up to 1975 when furnishings became more standardised in The House. But in this case it would have been a faint, a Trojan Horse, calculated to deceive political opponents the election was to go ahead.
The election was not going to happen, and Prime Minister Peter Fraser and Walter Nash would already have been certain of it. This bit of furniture is a living chess piece, a decoy, probably understood well at the time but long since forgotten. For one whole week, this mandrobe
would have ruffled and confounded the Opposition and its base as well as Labour’s own people. Even some annoying unruly Labour MPs might straighten their backs or even scurry out of Wellington to prepare their electorates. Do we need to fundraise? Are we facing an election or not? Are the candidates selected? Conduct some polls! Prepare that policy! While everyone else’s misspent energy hampered them, Fraser and Nash could sleep smugly and soundly while their Trojan Mandrobe generated a forcefield of anxious uncertainty for everyone else!
Image ref. Nash; Alexander Turnbull Library
Ref. Martin (2004)
UPDATE: I wrote to The Parliamentary Historian, John Martin, for his input on this matter. He didn’t want to get in on the tactical aspects and might not try to get inside leader’s heads like I do. If he did try I think he’d blow us all away based on the knowledge he has accumulated…
Being the historian that I am, I checked Papers Past! On that very day (8 October 1941) there was a report in the Evening Post
concerning the circumstances of the Labour Party presentation of the ‘manrobe’/gentleman’s tallboy and other gifts to Walter and his wife. Sartorial elegance was clearly a priority! They were an acknowledgement of Nash’s work as acting Prime Minister from May to September 1941 while Fraser was overseas. See https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4n2/nash-walter
and Sinclair, Walter Nash
, p. 210, for his role as Minister of Finance in 1941.
If you want to you can include this as a contribution to your blog.
It’s fascinating to unpack what, in the first place, seemed to just be another bit of furniture.
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