Jim McLay

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Sir Jim McLay

Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT - Flickr - The Official CTBTO Photostream (18).jpg
9th Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
15 March 1984 – 26 July 1984
Prime MinisterRobert Muldoon
Preceded byDuncan MacIntyre
Succeeded byGeoffrey Palmer
24th Leader of the Opposition
In office
29 November 1984 – 26 March 1986
DeputyJim Bolger
Preceded byRobert Muldoon
Succeeded byJim Bolger
Personal details
Born (1945-02-21) 21 February 1945 (age 74)
Devonport, Auckland, New Zealand
Political partyNational
Spouse(s)Marcy Farden
ChildrenDenis McLay
Alma materUniversity of Auckland

Sir James Kenneth McLay KNZM QSO (born 21 February 1945) is a New Zealand diplomat and former politician. He served as the Deputy Prime Minister from 15 March to 26 July 1984. McLay was also Leader of the National Party and Leader of the Opposition from 29 November 1984 to 26 March 1986.[1] Following his ousting as party leader, he retired from parliamentary politics in 1987. In June 2009, he became New Zealand's Permanent Representative to the United Nations. In May 2015, McLay became New Zealand's Representative to the Palestinian Authority.[2] From May 2016 to January 2017, he was New Zealand's Consul General in Honolulu.[3]

Early life[edit]

McLay was born in Devonport, Auckland, the son of Robert and Joyce McLay.[4] Peter Wilkinson was his half-brother.[5] He was educated at King's College, Auckland and the University of Auckland, gaining a law degree in 1967. He worked as a lawyer for some time, and also became involved in a number of law associations. In 1983 he married Marcy Farden, who was an assistant to American congressman Daniel Akaka.[6]

Member of Parliament[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1975–1978 38th Birkenhead National
1978–1981 39th Birkenhead National
1981–1984 40th Birkenhead National
1984–1987 41st Birkenhead National

McLay had joined the National Party in 1963, and held a number of prominent positions within the party's Auckland branch. He also served on the party's national council. In the 1975 election, he stood as the National Party's candidate for the Birkenhead electorate, and defeated the incumbent Labour MP, Norman King.[7]

Cabinet Minister[edit]

In Parliament, McLay was known as one of the more liberal members of the National Party, and had a particular focus on reforming laws that related to women's rights. In 1978, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon appointed McLay to the posts of Attorney General and Minister of Justice.[8]

Deputy Prime Minister[edit]

In early 1984, following the retirement of Duncan MacIntyre, McLay became deputy leader of the National Party, and thus Deputy Prime Minister.

Leader of the Opposition[edit]

When National lost the 1984 election, there was widespread desire in the party for a leadership change. This desire came mainly from the younger and less conservative wing of the party, which saw Robert Muldoon as representing an era that had already passed. Muldoon, however, refused to leave the position voluntarily, thereby forcing a direct leadership challenge. The two main candidates in the leadership race (apart from Muldoon himself) were Jim McLay and Jim Bolger. McLay, in distinct contrast to Muldoon, promoted free market economic policies and a relatively liberal social outlook. Bolger, meanwhile, was seen as a more traditionalist and pragmatic candidate but less conservative as Muldoon. McLay won the caucus vote with slightly over half the votes.[9]

McLay's first major challenge was Muldoon himself. On his defeat, Muldoon refused to accept any portfolios offered him, thereby becoming a backbencher. McLay's attempts to give Muldoon an "elder statesman" role within the party were rebuffed, with Muldoon insisting on an active role. The relationship between McLay and Muldoon deteriorated further, as McLay outlined a major departure from Muldoon's interventionist economic policies. Muldoon's hostility was to prove a major problem for McLay's leadership, and undermined all attempts to promote unity within the party. Later, when Muldoon made a strong public criticism of the entire party leadership, Muldoon (along with loyalist Merv Wellington) was demoted to the lowest ranking within the National caucus.[10]

Muldoon, apparently realising that there was little chance of him regaining the leadership, threw his support behind Bolger, who remained opposed to McLay. There was considerable media speculation that McLay would be deposed before the end of 1985. The rumoured challenge, however, failed to happen, and McLay remained leader. In early 1986, however, McLay made a fatal mistake: in an attempt to "rejuvenate" the party's upper ranks, he demoted George Gair and Bill Birch, both of whom were highly respected for their long service.

Gair and Birch had earlier been opponents of McLay's in the 1984 leadership election before they withdrew.

Gair and Birch, two of National's most experienced politicians, quickly allied themselves with Bolger. From then on, McLay's fall was almost guaranteed.[11]


On 26 March, Gair, Birch, and party whip Don McKinnon presented McLay with a letter signed by a majority of MPs in the National Party caucus asking him to step aside. Bolger received a clear majority in the resulting caucus vote, ending McLay's leadership of the National Party.[1]

McLay is the only leader of the National Party who neither became Prime Minister nor led his party to an election.

After Parliament[edit]

McLay retired from Parliament at the 1987 election. Between 1994 and 2002 he was the New Zealand representative on the International Whaling Commission. He served as chairman of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development, an independent industry body which advances best practice in infrastructure development, investment and procurement, from 2005 to 2006 and remained as patron until 2009.[12]

Permanent Representative to the United Nations[edit]

In July 2009 McLay took up the role of New Zealand's Permanent Representative to the United Nations.[1] On 16 October 2014, McLay led New Zealand to victory in the United Nations Security Council election for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council winning in the first round of voting with 145 votes out of a possible 193 beating both Spain and Turkey.[13] McLay took up New Zealand's seat on the United Nations Security Council on 1 January 2015.

Representative to the Palestinian Authority[edit]

On 20 February 2015, it was announced that McLay is to finish his role as Permanent Representative after the end of his second term. McLay is set to become New Zealand's Representative to the Palestinian Authority, as well as being a special advisor to Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully and, when required, a Prime Ministerial special envoy.[14]


McLay (right), after his investiture as a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit by the governor-general, Sir Jerry Mateparae, on 27 August 2015

McLay was appointed a Companion of the Queen's Service Order for public services in the 1987 Queen's Birthday Honours.[15] In 1993, McLay was awarded the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal.[16] In the 2003 Queen's Birthday Honours he was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to conservation.[17] In 2012, McLay was awarded an honorary degree, a Doctor of Humane Letters, by Juniata College.[18] In the 2015 Queen's Birthday Honours, McLay was promoted to Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to business and the State.[19]

Honorific eponym[edit]

The McLay Glacier in Antarctica's Churchill Mountains is named in McLay's honour, in recognition of his service as the New Zealand representative on the International Whaling Commission during which he advocated for the establishment of a whale sanctuary in the Southern Ocean.[20]


  1. ^ a b c "Jim McLay NZ's next representative to UN". The New Zealand Herald. 11 March 2009. Retrieved 11 March 2009.
  2. ^ "McCully thanks departing Permanent Representative | Scoop News". Scoop.co.nz. 20 February 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  3. ^ http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/news/politics/exclusive-sir-jim-mclay-to-take-up-job-as-acting-consul-general-in-hawaii/
  4. ^ "Births". New Zealand Herald. 23 February 1945. p. 1. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  5. ^ Gustafson 1986, p. 134.
  6. ^ "Political marriage". Ottawa Citizen. 13 October 1983. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  7. ^ Wilson 1985, p. 216.
  8. ^ Wilson 1985, p. 96.
  9. ^ Gustafson 1986, p. 158.
  10. ^ Gustafson 1986, p. 162.
  11. ^ Gustafson 1986, p. 164.
  12. ^ "Queen's Birthday Honours 2015 - Citations for Knight Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit". Queen's Birthday Honours 2015 - Citations for Knight Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  13. ^ "NZ wins seat on Security Council: 'Victory for the small states' - National - NZ Herald News". Nzherald.co.nz. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  14. ^ "New Zealand's UN representative Jim McLay to be replaced - National - NZ Herald News". Nzherald.co.nz. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  15. ^ "No. 50950". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 1987. p. 33.
  16. ^ "The New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal 1993 – register of recipients". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 26 July 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  17. ^ "Queen's Birthday honours list 2003". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 2 June 2003. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  18. ^ "Juniata College - President - Honorary Degree Recipients". Juniata.edu. Archived from the original on 22 December 2007. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  19. ^ "Queen's Birthday honours list 2015". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 1 June 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  20. ^ "McLay Glacier". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 1 June 2015.


  • Gustafson, Barry (1986). The First 50 Years : A History of the New Zealand National Party. Auckland: Reed Methuen. ISBN 0-474-00177-6.
  • Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First published in 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103.
Government offices
Preceded by
Duncan MacIntyre
Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Palmer
Political offices
Preceded by
Peter Wilkinson
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Palmer
Preceded by
David Thomson
Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Palmer
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Norman King
Member of Parliament for Birkenhead
Succeeded by
Jenny Kirk
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Rosemary Banks
Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York
Succeeded by
Gerard van Bohemen