Jim McLay

Jim McLay


name=Rt. Hon. Jim McLay
order=9th Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
|term_start=15 March 1984
term_end=26 July 1984
primeminister=Robert Muldoon
predecessor=Duncan MacIntyre
successor=Geoffrey Palmer
order2=24th Leader of the Opposition
term_start2=29 November 1984
term_end2=26 March 1986
predecessor2=Robert Muldoon
successor2=Jim Bolger
birth_date=Birth date and age|1945|2|21|df=y
birth_place=Devonport, Auckland, NZL

James Kenneth McLay, CNZM, QSO (born 21 February 1945), generally known as Jim McLay, is a former New Zealand politician. He was Deputy Prime Minister, leader of the National Party and Leader of the Opposition for a short time.

Early life

McLay was born in Devonport, Auckland. He was educated at King's College, Auckland and the University of Auckland, gaining a law degree in 1967. He worked as a lawyer for some time, and also became involved in a number of law associations.

Member of Parliament

McLay had joined the National Party in 1963, and held a number of prominent positions within the party's Auckland branch. He also served on the party's national council. In the 1975 election, he stood as the National Party's candidate for the Birkenhead electorate, and defeated the incumbent Labour MP, Norman King.

Cabinet Minister

In Parliament, McLay was known as one of the more liberal members of the National Party, and had a particular focus on reforming laws that related to women's rights. In 1978, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon appointed McLay to the posts of Attorney General and Minister of Justice.

Deputy Prime Minister

In early 1984, following the retirement of Duncan MacIntyre, McLay became deputy leader of the National Party, and thus Deputy Prime Minister.

Leader of the Opposition

When National lost the 1984 election, there was widespread desire in the party for a leadership change. This desire came mainly from the younger and less conservative wing of the party, which saw Robert Muldoon as representing an era that had already passed. Muldoon, however, refused to leave the position voluntarily, thereby forcing a direct leadership challenge. The two main candidates in the leadership race (apart from Muldoon himself) were Jim McLay and Jim Bolger. McLay, in distinct contrast to Muldoon, promoted free market economic policies and a relatively liberal social outlook. Bolger, meanwhile, was seen as a more traditionalist and pragmatic candidate, although he was not so conservative as Muldoon. McLay won the caucus vote with slightly over half the votes.

McLay's first major challenge was Muldoon himself. On his defeat, Muldoon refused to accept any portfolios offered him, thereby becoming a backbencher. McLay's attempts to give Muldoon an "elder statesman" role within the party were rebuffed, with Muldoon insisting on an active role. The relationship between McLay and Muldoon deteriorated further as McLay outlined a major departure from Muldoon's interventionist economic policies. Muldoon's hostility was to prove a major problem for McLay's leadership, and undermined all attempts to promote unity within the party. Later, when Muldoon made a strong public criticism of the entire party leadership, Muldoon (along with loyalist Merv Wellington) were demoted to the lowest ranking within the National caucus.

Muldoon, apparently realising that there was little chance of him regaining the leadership, threw his support behind Jim Bolger, who remained opposed to McLay. There was considerable media speculation that McLay would be deposed before the end of 1985. The rumoured challenge, however, failed to eventuate, and McLay remained leader. In early 1986, however, McLay made a fatal mistake - in an attempt to "rejuvenate" the party's upper ranks, he demoted George Gair and Bill Birch, both of whom were highly respected for their long service. Gair and Birch, two of National's most experienced politicians, quickly allied themselves with Jim Bolger. From this point, McLay's fall was almost guaranteed.


On 26 March, Gair, Birch, and party whip Don McKinnon presented McLay with a letter signed by a majority of MPs asking him to step aside. Jim Bolger received a clear majority in the resulting caucus vote, ending McLay's leadership of the National Party.

Later life

McLay retired from Parliament at the 1987 election. Between 1994 and 2002 he was the New Zealand representative on the International Whaling Commission. He is currently the chairman of the Council for Infrastructure Development, an independent organization which lobbies in favour of public-private partnerships in transport and electricity generation.

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