26 November 2011

Don't forget to vote

Photograph: William Hall Raine, via National Library NZ on The Commons

This oft-shared photo shows massed hat-wearing crowds watching the Evening Post's results board outside the newspaper's Willis Street offices in Wellington, during the general election held in December 1931. This was the first election held since the onset of the Depression in 1929, and was brought about by the breakdown of a United-Labour coalition over disagreements on how to deal with the massive economic crisis. Electors punished the United Party of Premier George William Forbes, returning only 19 of its candidates, down from 27 in 1928. Former Premier Gordon Coates' Reform Party, which had been in opposition, became the largest party with 28 seats in the 80-member House, gaining one on its 1928 total. This meant United and Reform were able to form a majority coalition to keep the growing Labour Party out of office, with Forbes remaining as Premier despite leading the smaller government party. Harry Holland's Labour Party boosted its caucus from 19 to 24 and became the official Opposition, securing an electoral beach-head that it would eventually turn to victory in 1935. This election was also the genesis of today's National Party, when the United-Reform coalition merged into a single conservative party to counteract the growth of Labour.

The 1931 election was a first for election broadcasting in New Zealand too. Archivist David Colquhoun discusses the story behind the photo:

In Wellington, for the first time, you could stay at home and listen [to the election] on the radio. The local 2ZW station set up in the Post's results room in what proved to be a successful experiment. The Dominion had 2YA on hand. But for the politically committed, staying at home seemed a dull option, compared with the old practice of showing your colours on the street. Besides, as the new radio coverage was also boomed out from loudspeakers, and you could see the candidates live as they gave their end-of-evening speeches from the Post balcony.
- David Colquhoun, Wellingtonians from the Turnbull Library Collections, 2011.   
See also another two angles by William Hall Raine of the Willis Street crowd scene: one from the north side and another from the Post's offices.
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