I’ve finished reading Farland’s life of William Massey - a disappointing book. Our Prime Minister from 1912 to 1925 deserves a better analysis than this shallow account. Though basically Farland’s probably correct in that Massey has been underestimated by historians. He rails against them from Sinclair to Bassett – proponents of the Long Pink Cloud theory he calls them. His own intense dislike of the Labour politicians of the period and even more the strikers makes his own narrative unbalanced. He keeps making unnecessary diversions – a long background to the First World War with his thesis that the French were its main culprits.
Massey’s undoubtedly hard to write about. Gardner couldn’t come to grips with him. There are no diaries, few letters and not many personal accounts. Farland relies almost solely upon Parliamentary debates and legislation – not the best source. (I wonder in ninety years time what biographers will have to say about Helen Clark – email leaves little record and she herself has been reticent).
Massey obviously had presence. Like Seddon he was a masterly Parliamentary tactician, pragmatic and cunning. He lacked the showman’s instincts but he seemed to have instinctive leadership qualities. Whereas Seddon’s heart was with the worker, Massey’s was with the owner and the boss. Massey had to work harder to survive. In his period Parliament was fractured and parties were more fluid.
His belief in the British Empire and his anti-Catholic bias were made clear – they reflected his origins - but I was left wanting to know more about what made this man tick. There were hints – a kinder heart than expected under an exterior of flint. His emotions as wartime Prime Minister are not revealed though the soldiers seemed to like him.
His resting place, Point Halswell, is one of the most commanding sites in Wellington Harbour. It has been for a long time one of my favourite picnic spots.
Words - Douglas McLennan
1 hour ago