Peter Fraser was to me and perhaps many others the archeytypical dour Scot who dutifully delivered the First Labour Government’s security blanket in the dire drone that turns many off his national instrument, the bagpipes. It was only when I began researching his life for my spy novel The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser that I realised how much more there was to him. His principles and pragmatism forged a better country, a better world and a better deal for our arts and culture, including my own writing and publishing.
My novel is set in mid-1945, when Fraser returned from a major role in setting up the United Nations. His championing of decolonisation and denying the Great Powers a veto made him serious enemies. Nazis released from Somes Island detention are for hire. This was Fraser’s annus mirabilis. My novel posits how it threatened to be his annus horribilis.
Fraser returned to a Labour vote declining. He offered no sops, stuck to his guns, so to speak. He advocated secure family incomes and a safety net that would stop another Great Depression when the opposition and many in his own party wanted freer markets and less austerity. Part of his vision was to put government money into creating a literary fund, more public broadcasting, more theatre and other performance arts, establishing a national orchestra.
Our wartime Prime Minister returned to international acclaim as a champion of the peace-keepers. My novel The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser has him welcomed like a peaceful version of a conquering Roman general. The cheers from the crowds that packed Auckland and Wellington town halls for ‘Good Old Peter’ were reported enthusiastically by a Tory press that loathed his communist style of state interference but loved the status he gave the country as its first international statesman. At Wellington Fraser was presented with a testimonial signed by 20,000. I cannot think of any PM before or since getting that kind of acclaim. In the process he made enemies among the Great Powers wanting to control the peace-keepers. In my story assassins are hired to silence his lobbying for peace and decolonisation.
It may sound far-fetched, but consider that the second Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjold died in a plane crash allegedly caused by the CIA. Fraser returned to a country with demands for an easing of wartime restrictions and a National Opposition anticipating it would soon be in charge. Fraser went on the attack, getting his dithering colleagues behind an expanding welfare state, a guaranteed family income and a social security net that would prevent another Great Depression, forcing through nationalisation of the Bank of New Zealand and the airlines. Fraser believed world peace should start in his own backyard. The National Opposition was frothing at such blatant communism. There were protests in the streets, for and against his measures. In Parliament Labour members stood and sang The Red Flag, the Nats stood and sang God Save the King. Among the crowds were returning Kiwi ex-prisoners of war come to praise Fraser, and Nazis just released from the Somes Island detention camp lusting for vengeance. The hot war was ending, the Cold War had begun.
Fraser won over Parliament to his United Nations vision, but lurking in the shadowy corridors of power were figures determined to end state control and stop Fraser promoting his peace measures at the upcoming final conference in London to seal the United Nations structure. This is the context of my novel mixing fact and fiction in the style of Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal, which I reread while writing mine. Next blog I look at how my previous books were drawn on for the plot to kill the prime minister.