George Grey, Premier
October 14, 2018
Sir George Grey as Premier: 13 Oct 1877–8 Oct 1879
Most focus is on Grey’s earlier period as Governor, let’s consider his busy couple of years when he humbled himself down to the rank of Premier/Prime Minister. In 1867 The Empire decided he was done as Governor so Grey returned to enter British politics but was shut out of that too. So, back he came to New Zealand but this time he would rise to power by election. The 1875 election.
Tax the rich more!
‘I come to meet the revolution!’ he says and stirs up the sort of sentiment more recently seen in the 2011 Occupy Movement. Elites, “1%”, estate owners, are keeping down the little guy so let’s bust them up and distribute the spoils to the common man! Spread political power around to the mob. Tax the rich more! Power to the provinces!
New Zealand had never seen political campaigning like his before
Sir George was a gentrified knight with vast wealth and property, including owning Kawau Island upon which he has a lavish mansion that still stands today! But then, as now, the electorate are more easily led by what their politicians say than what they do. New Zealand had never seen political campaigning like his before and Grey did bring a much lacking revitalisation to the Opposition in the House.
Oh, but then what? Like a dog that chases cars all is well until the Opposition champion actually captures its quarry and rises to power but THEN what? As those before (Fox) and since would also discover, these are not transferable skills. Going from demolitionist to builder, that is. Perhaps Sir George assumed it would be fine in his case because now as Premier he started behaving as in his old routine as The Governor.
From an anarchist point of view the best possible result!
“His firmness, dignity and courage as Governor were now converted into obstinacy, arrogance and petulance as Premier,” – Downie Stewart.
To be popular with people, to be House Leader, to be a Party Leader, and a Premier…couldn’t do it. What Grey could be was autocratic, touchy, insulting, disrespectful of house rules. He was, for one thing, a late sexagenarian by now and was becoming irrational and conspiratorially obsessed. It was chaos. So from an anarchist point of view the best possible result. Gridlocked and impotent political sociopaths is as good as it gets!
A sensational never-before-seen incident now marks the big finish for Premier Grey. The 1879 election was done and over yet somehow he persuades the Governor to grant an extension to the old one!? The debate rages on, the Opposition attacks! It is now that Grey is deserted by his followers who are branded “rats”. They latch on to John Hall instead now, which makes him the new Premier (you need to know that there were no political parties back then. A Premier and a Ministry was held together organically and could fall and a new one rise up any time the House was sitting.)
Spiralling downward to isolation
The old man remains an MP, yet spiralling downward to isolation and making a lone wolf disruptive has-been of himself. This he did for a great spell, owing to his impressive lifespan, until at 81 he returns to England and only then resigns his seat in the House (1895).
Grey dies at home in London on 19 September 1898, aged 86 years and 158 days.
Image: Sir Hubert von Herkomer portrait, c.1890
(so roughly how he appeared as Premier but perhaps a little more grizzled)
Image: Grey deserted by ‘the noble army of rats’
Image: 1897, Premier Seddon is in England for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee and stops by for a photo op with his predecessor. (At least I assume that’s what’s going on here. I may have just made that up.)