'Kiwi Keith' begins 12-year reign as prime minister

26 November 1960

Keith Holyoake with his twin grandchildren (Alexander Turnbull Library, EP/1969/5344/30-F)

Keith Holyoake led the National Party to victory over Walter Nash’s Labour government, and went on to become New Zealand’s third longest-serving prime minister behind Richard Seddon and William Massey.

Holyoake briefly became PM when Sid Holland resigned three months before the 1957 election, but was unable to prevent a narrow Labour victory. In 1960, he led National back into power.

‘Kiwi Keith’, as he was known, strove to preserve economic prosperity and stability, an aim reflected in his 1963 election slogan, ‘Steady Does It’. While he was criticised by some, his administration’s longevity suggests that he correctly read the mood of most New Zealanders.

One of his greatest challenges was New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam War, which became a key election issue in 1966. While the government’s share of the vote fell, it retained a comfortable majority. Holyoake’s fourth victory in 1969 was even more impressive, but by 1972 his administration appeared tired and out of touch. Holyoake stepped aside in February, and in November Labour’s Norman Kirk defeated his successor, Jack Marshall