Independence and Foreign Policy: New Zealand in the World since 1935

By Malcolm McKinnon | Go to book overview

6. The 1950s consensus

Throughout the fourteen years of the Labour government, National had been ready to charge it with disloyalty if ever its 'independent' policies looked to be creating complications for Britain. National won the 1949 election. Would loyalty now become the watchword of its foreign policy? Would there be a sharp turning away from the course of Labour foreign policy? 'Loyalty' certainly dominated National's rhetoric. And National did give an ideological emphasis to foreign policy issues which was different from Labour's. But in practice the differences were minimal. Labour had after all argued in word, and shown in deed, that independence and loyalty were compatible. The two parties had taken similar, albeit not identical, ideological positions over the struggles against Fascism and Communism. Both placed relations with Britain and the Commonwealth at the centre of foreign relations and saw those relations as a model for international relations generally.

While a consensus prevailed, the Department of External Affairs nonetheless found the new government difficult. Fraser and Nash had been passionately interested in international affairs; Holland and most of his colleagues were not. Necessity sometimes dictated that the government reach out beyond the familar world of the Commonwealth, which many in the National Party still called the Empire. But not always. Parsimony remained a more powerful imperative than participation. Further, there were times when loyalty jibbed at the pressures of the wider world on New Zealand, on Britain, and on the relationship between the two.


Loyalty and parsimony

For the new government, solidarity with Britain was deeply rooted in the political culture. Many of the important links with Britain were with the more conservative parts of that country's political, social and economic structure-- the armed forces, the Crown and the City, for instance. The Navy in the 1950s still had as its head a British admiral. The establishment of the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) was done in consultation with the British, and in particular with MI5, the counter-espionage service (combatting enemy activities), and many of its early personnel were recruited from MI5, which

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