When the 4th National Government came to power in 1990, the makeup of its Cabinet indicated that the National Party was still tied to its rural roots. Thirteen former farmers were appointed to the twenty-MP cabinet, together with a further three MPs from rural or provincial areas, while there was only one MP included from a metropolitan Auckland seat. The makeup of the new 5th National Government suggests that the party has qualitatively changed. In stark contrast to the old 1990s rural-based Bolger Cabinet, lawyers now outnumber farmers 8 to 2 in the Key Cabinet. [Read more below]
A New Zealand Herald article today details the occupational background of the new Cabinet and finds that the farmers have been replaced by urban professionals.
Kiwiblog has also calculated some demographics details of the new administration, and found the following:
- The Cabinet is 30% female
- The average age is younger at 49.5. Only one Minister in Cabinet is in their 60s.
- There are four Maori Ministers and one Asian Minister. Maori Ministers make up 14% of the Ministry [Cabinet + Ministers outside of] - around the same as their share of the adult population’
- South Island Ministers make up 25% of the Cabinet
- Auckland Ministers make up 45% of the Cabinet
Such demographics are inline with my observations in the blog post: National goes politically correct. Here I argued that National has been attempting to diversify itself by becoming ethnically-diverse and more gender balanced to reflect the modern face of New Zealand society. And while they have been quite successful in these elements of ‘superficial’ identity politics, when it comes to class and occupation, unsurprisingly there has been absolutely no attempt to make the National caucus reflect the class nature of New Zealand society.
Then of course there’s the Labour Party, which is the original party obsessed with identity politics and window dressing. It’s social composition, too, has changed significantly. In the Labour Cabinet between 1935 and 1940, former trade unionists made up ten out of thirteen ministers – and there was only one minister with a professional background. Lawyers and urban professionals now dominate that party too.
Barry Gustafson has pointed out that of the Labour caucus in 1984 ‘almost three out of four MPs came from the professional class, including nineteen who had been teachers or university lecturers and ten who had law degrees’ (Gustafson, 1992b: p.277). The Fourth Labour Government contained very few MPs who were not from ‘the professional middle classes: lawyers, accountants, lecturers, teachers, bureaucrats and the like’ (James, 1992a: pp.141-142). The Labour Cabinet also ‘contained, among its twenty members, seventeen from professional/semi-professional occupations, including eight former teachers and six with law degrees’ (Gustafson, 1992: p.277).
As the Herald pointed out today, the 5th Labour Government Cabinet was also very teacher/lecturer heavy:
But this, too, is changing. I’ll put together an analysis of the class background of the new Labour caucus at some time. But for the moment it’s worth noting that the preponderance for teachers and academics may be on the decline in the party. And like within National, the lawyers and other urban professionals appear to be taking over from the old guard. Former academics like Clark and Cullen are the past, with people like David Cunliffe representing Labour’s future. As I’ve pointed out previously, the Listener profile on Cunliffe sums him up very nicely with this one sentence: 'Cunliffe is the new wave of "Third Way" Labour politicians: well-educated, wealthy and perhaps more comfortable among big business than in a working men's club'.
It also needs to be pointed out that even people with business background appear to have less visibility within National and Labour. In 1999 Richard Harman reported that National, like the other parties, lack MPs with a business background, saying that the party list was ‘heavy with lawyers, accountants and doctors’ (Harman, 1999: p.23). This appears to still be true. The more that Labour and National change, the more they become similar.