Page 8: Defeat and recovery
Muldoon, Robert David
Accountant, politician, prime minister
This biography, written by Barry Gustafson, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.
Robert Muldoon’s 1984 election campaign was perfunctory and far less effective than his earlier ones. With the National Party’s vote split by the new right-wing New Zealand Party, led by the businessman Bob Jones, Labour won a resounding victory. It gained 56 seats to the 37 National retained and the two won by Social Credit. Immediately after the election, held on 14 July, the Reserve Bank and Treasury persuaded the incoming Labour government that devaluation was essential. A reluctant Muldoon, after some confusion, carried out David Lange’s instructions to do so.
Deposed as leader
It was agreed that Muldoon remain acting as National’s leader until February 1985. Fear that he might try to remain in the leadership position longer led to caucus holding a leadership vote on 29 November 1984. Jim McLay became National’s new leader, defeating four other candidates including Muldoon, who received only five of the 37 votes.
Demotion and restoration
Muldoon kept a low profile for about six months after losing the leadership, but became increasingly annoyed by the growing influence of the New Right on the National Party and a willingness to scapegoat him personally for everything that had gone wrong in the past. Others also started to defend Muldoon and his legacy and during 1985 some 20,000 people joined an organisation called the Sunday Club, whose main aim appeared to be to rehabilitate Muldoon to National’s front bench if not to the leadership. There were even suggestions that Muldoon might split the National Party and become leader of a new conservative party.
Muldoon’s criticism of McLay and Ruth Richardson led to McLay demoting him to the bottom ranking in the caucus. Muldoon and his supporters then backed Jim Bolger in a successful challenge to McLay on 26 March 1986 and Muldoon returned to the front bench as foreign affairs spokesperson.
International economic reform
While prime minister, Muldoon had campaigned persistently overseas about the dangers to the world economy of third-world debt and the need to reform the international monetary system. He continued to do so after 1984, criticising some of the policies of the International Monetary Fund and raising the prospect of another stock-market crash similar to that of 1929. At conferences in Washington DC in 1985 and Zürich in 1986 he came into contact with the Global Economic Action Institute (GEAI), whose goal was international economic stability, especially financial stability.
After participating in a number of GEAI conferences and preparing some reports for them, in 1988 Muldoon succeeded Eugene McCarthy, the onetime US presidential candidate and senator, as GEAI’s chairman. He held the post until 1991, chairing conferences in Africa, the United States, Taiwan, Germany, Japan, China, Hungary and Russia.