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The 1984 Schnapps Election: A Swine's Downfall

FEATURE | NEWS

Written by William Lyall (he/him) | @willis.davies_ | Contributing Writer


Illustration by Younsoo (Chloe) Kim (she/her) | @ysksince0522 | Contributing Artist


Put yourself in the shoes of the average Kiwi on the night of the 14th of June 1984. After a long shift at the hair spray/spandex factory, you return home and resign yourself to the couch, hoping to enjoy just a few relaxing hours in front of the tube before bed. Instead, however, you are met with a ghastly sight. Prime Minister Sir Rob ‘Piggy’ Muldoon waddles out of a parliamentary conference room in a clearly drunken stupor, announcing to the media that he has called a snap election. New Zealand would be going to polls in a month's time, leaving Muldoon’s Nats and his opponent Labour Leader David Lange little time to campaign for what would soon be known as “The 1984 Schnapps Election”. 


Muldoon's parliamentary career prior to becoming National Party leader was already characterised by his aggression and reluctance to consider alternative views, this abrasive attitude earning him the nickname ‘Piggy Muldoon’ by his opponents. Whilst his political foes grew to revile the sunken-eyed swine, others saw him as a no-nonsense bloke, cutting through the bull shit like a heated spade. These people would refer to themselves as ‘Robs Mob’ and their unwavering support would become essential to maintaining his grasp of power. 


On the 9th of July 1974 Muldoon became the leader of the opposition, and to commemorate this monumental achievement on the 25th of August he decided it would be a swell idea to assault innocent protestors on the intersection between K Road and Queen Street (bloody Jafas). The NZ Herald wrote the next day: "Police took him by the arms and appeared to be steering him towards his car when a flour bomb struck him on the back. Mr Muldoon veered around the back of his car and ran toward some of the protestors, flailing punches as he did so. Some punches appeared to land, and one youth fell to the ground." Of course, Muldoon left the brawl without reprimand. However several of those rowdy hooligans guilty of flour chucking and demonstrating their freedom of assembly were charged for obscene language and disorderly conduct. 


Unfortunately, Muldoon would not occupy the role of opposition leader for long. His aggression and quick wit won the hearts of a large portion of the NZ public and in November of 1975, the Nats beat the single-term Labour government in a landslide. Curiously however, instead of delegating his previous role as finance minister to one of his many other MPs, Mudllon would graciously take it upon himself to control both extremely powerful positions in the NZ government. What a legend. 


How could that possibly go wrong? 


A lack of strong Labour competition was one of the largest contributing factors to National’s success in the Muldoon era. Bill Rowling, the Labour leader at the time, was considered mild-mannered in comparison to National’s fiery spokesperson, making it easy for Labour leadership to be touted as weak by Muldoon during both his campaign and prime ministership. However, Colin Moyle, a well-respected and popular Labour MP was rumoured to potentially be an effective replacement for Rowling, meaning he posed a threat to Muldoon's leadership. Allegedly The Snout-Nosed tyrant of Tamaki was concerned that he might soon be competing against a leader that could counter his debating brutality, so he pulled a stunt many would find… in pork taste. 


On November 4th 1976, Muldoon abused his parliamentary privilege to accuse Moyle of being “Picked up by the police for homosexual activities.” In a time when Homosexuality was yet to be legalised in NZ, an allegation like this was incredibly damaging towards both Moyle’s career and reputation as a public figure. Within 2 months Moyle would be convinced to resign from his position as MP for Mangere. This would trigger a by-election that would ironically lead to the election of young upstart David Lange, the man who would eventually oust Muldoon from his seat on the throne. Fortunately, Moyle would return to politics soon after, however, the whole situation dubbed ‘The Moyle Affair’ would forever impact his career.   


The 1981 Springbok tour is probably the issue in this article that you, the brilliant and compassionate readers of Debate are most familiar with. In the wake of the recent surge of Kiwi political activism, it has become a chapter of NZ protest history that can be looked back at with pride, a grassroots campaign showing resistance against a government willfully ignorant to apartheid truths. However, the springbok was also heavily exploited by Muldoon as a means of polarising the public and maintaining power. 


Even in 1973 PM Norman Kirk was convinced by the police to postpone the upcoming tour after being warned that it would ‘Engender the greatest eruption of violence this country has ever known.’ But with almost a decade of wisdom later, the portly PM decided that allowing this tour to take place was in the best interests of the public. Not because he sincerely believed that our country would be united under the banner of rugby, but because he rightfully assumed that the outrage would divide our country in half, one seeing him as the defender of our proud sporting culture, and the other in dismay with the decision. He stoked the flames of societal division to secure support from the blue-collar workers and veterans in the provincial seats that would be integral to National’s success in the upcoming election. Of course, more factors led to National’s slim victory in the ‘81 election, but the Springbok tour fiasco clearly shows some of the worst of what the Power-Hungry-Hog had to offer our nation. 


Finally, I have reached the most satisfying period of Muldoon's prime ministerial career, the part where it ends. After National MP Marilyn Waring informed the PM that she would not vote in line with the official National party stance on the nuclear-free bill, Muldoon called a snap election, as he saw her choice as an act of defection. However, this was never Waring’s intention. It is more likely that the Belligerent Boar was making a last-ditch effort to maintain power, sabotaging Labour’s ability to craft a convincing campaign. To quote the creature himself during the election announcement  “It doesn't give my opponents much time to run up to an election does it?”. 


This strategy would not work out for Muldoon. As the years progressed the demanding role of prime minister was beginning to take on Ol Piggy, his rapidly declining health fuelled by his commitment to grog meant that he was now far from the brilliant and quick-witted man of his early political career. As a tragic month-long campaign dragged on, it became obvious that after nearly a decade of driving Aotearoa into the ground, the Porky Pig was officially too drunk to have his hands on the wheel.


The best preserved moment from the boozy campaign (and my personal highlight) was the 1984 leaders debate. The debate begins with the host Ian Johnstone asking each leader to give a synopsis of what their party stands for. To start, Muldoon quotes former British MP, antisemite, anti-communist and notorious nazi sympathiser Nancy Astor, “During my 25 years in the House of Commons the socialists offered nothing but the kingdom of god without praying and the goods of this earth without working.” I see the Labour Party as the socialist party and the party of the trade unions, and I see the national party as all the rest.”


Sir Robert is attempting to discredit Lange, to cast doubt upon the idea that a change of government could bring good for the country. But in his advanced age and without Rob's Mob to support him, he fails to take control of the narrative. In comparison to Lange, Piggy is shown to be an artefact of a time long past, clambering to keep his withered trotters from slipping away from the clutch of power. But, in the face of the undeniably charismatic and visionary David Lange, you can almost watch in real-time as Piggy realises that his fate is sealed. Perhaps that's why he ended the debate in such a bizarre manner, seemingly giving in to the Labour leader's infectious charm, boldly declaring “I love you Mr Lange”, a statement the majority of ‘84 Kiwis echoed. 


The National Party lost the 1984 election by a quite large margin, but that doesn't mean that we can’t learn a lesson from the career of Sir Robert “Piggy” Muldoon. This icon of New Zealand politics serves as a cautionary tale to all of us Kiwis. In fact, It's not hard to see a few parallels in our current leadership. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Luxon is much like the Pig (apart from the one glaring similarity above his forehead), but I believe that there is a worrying similarity between our two deputy prime ministers. Winston Peters and David Seymour to me, are two sides of the Muldoon coin. One is a borderline demagogue who maintains a political presence even in his twilight years based on his experience and devout following. The other a populist who presents himself as a man of the people hellbent on representing the average Kiwi bloke, but enacting anti-union policies when in a position of power. 



It is essential to keep this in mind as time goes by. We, as the next generation of voters, hold power over the future of our country. Regardless of your political leanings, it's essential to prevent yourself from being swept up into cults of personality, which can lead to political parties being treated like sports teams rather than a group of public servants who hold immense power over almost every aspect of society. Although Piggy Muldoon may have an incredibly unique character, the ideas he represented are not unique to his time. So do yourself a favour, and don't eat from the trough.


Sources:

The Grim Face of Power:

The Moyle Affair:

The Brawl:

Rough Muldoon Timeline:

The Springbok Tour:

Leader's Debate:

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