Few politicians have been as admired by the New Zealand public for their personal integrity and benevolence as Michael Joseph Savage (1872-1940). In the middle decades of the twentieth century his portrait had an honoured place in thousands of households throughout the country. The administration he headed from December 1935 until his death from cancer in March 1940 is remembered principally for introducing the social security system, which promised to support the populace ‘from the cradle to the grave’.
Savage worked at many different occupations before entering politics: bottle store assistant, labourer, irrigation ditch-digger, goldminer, stationary-engine driver, bakery manager, flax-cutter, cellarman in Auckland’s Captain Cook Brewery. Born into a family of Irish Catholic immigrants on an impoverished farm in the Benalla district of northeastern Victoria, he was already a committed socialist and trade unionist by the time he moved to New Zealand in 1906. He stood, unsuccessfully, as the Socialist Party candidate for Auckland Central in the 1911 general election and as the Social Democrat party candidate for the same electorate in 1914. By July 1916 he had decided to dedicate his energies to the fledgling Labour Party.
The year 1919 was an eventful one for Savage. He was elected to the Auckland City Council and the Auckland Hospital and Charitable Aid Board in April. He became national secretary of the Labour Party in July. The parliamentary election held on December 17 was generally a triumph for the sitting Reform Party government led by William Massey, who returned to power with an increased majority. Labour, however, also claimed a respectable share of the vote. Savage won the Auckland West seat with 4008 votes to Reform candidate Charles Bennett’s 3475 and Liberal candidate Andrew Entrican’s 1493. He continued to represent this electorate for the rest of his life.
The Library collects election fliers and other political ephemera, realising that they often contain valuable information for historians.