Coates of Kaipara by Michael Bassett

By Michael Bassett

This can be the biography of recent Zealand best Minister, Gordon Coates (1878-1943). It bargains a reassessment of the achievements and screw ups of a political occupation which spanned the extremes of renowned adulation and contempt.

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Gordon Coates of Matakohe will contest the Kaipara seat as an Independent Liberal. 34 Everything about Coates's 1911 campaign from the time of this announcement showed an element of shrewd political calculation. The word 'Liberal' appeared on his affiliation, albeit with the 'Independent' qualification. This positioned Coates near to Stallworthy, the man he had supported in the past, but who by now was nearly blind and in no shape to fight a strenuous campaign. Some parts of Coates's platform issued during subsequent weeks sounded a genuinely Liberal note; he praised the Government for haVing done 'good work in the past', but added that it lacked a 'constructive policy'.

Elections were feuds between those whose imagination ended just beyond their own farm gates and those with wider horizons. Not surprisingly, Gordon Coates was seen by the latter group as a potential recruit. Before Edward Coates's death Ruatuna was seeing less and less of him. He became active in and later president of the Kaipara Agricultural and Pastoral Association. He was soon helping with the creation of the Auckland Farmers' Union which staged regular cattle sales in the region. Coates became chairman of North Kaipara Cooperative Stores, joined the executive of the Otamatea Racing Club of which he was soon chairman, and served on the Matakohe School Committee.

Both major parties were thrashing about in search of a seemingly illusory majority. The Liberals did their best to attach the new MPs, and a friendship quickly developed between Coates and Tom Seddon, who had inherited his father's seat when the Prime Minister died in June 1906. Sixty years later Seddon recalled first meeting Coates in the parliamentary newspaper room. 'He wore a brown suit, his large moustache was brown, his hair was swept off his forehead and I felt I knew this man was a new personality to politics ....

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