George Frederick Gair (13 October 1926) was a New Zealand politician. He was once deputy leader of the National Party, and was considered by many to be a possible contender for the leadership itself. He was known for his polite and diplomatic style, which often contrasted with the political situation around him - Michael Laws described him as "a refugee from the age of manners."
Gair was born in Dunedin, but moved to Wellington when young. He was educated at Wellington College, Victoria University, and Auckland University. After leaving university, he worked as a journalist and as a public relations officer. He also became involved in the organizational wing of the National Party, and briefly served on the staff of Keith Holyoake. In the 1966 elections, Gair stood as the National candidate for the North Shore electorate, hoping to replace retiring National MP Dean Eyre. He was successful.
In Parliament, Gair came to be regarded as a competent and diligent administrator. He briefly became Minister of Customs in 1972, but this was interrupted when National lost the 1972 elections to the Labour Party under Norman Kirk. When National regained power in the 1975 elections, Gair retured to cabinet. Between that time and National's defeat in the 1984 elections, Gair held a number of challenging portfolios, including serving as Minister of Health and Minister of Social Welfare. He also served as Minister of Housing, Minister of Energy, Minister of Transport, and a number of other roles.
Gair also distinguished himself for some of his personal views. Gair, although a member of the country's main conservative party, generally adopted a "live and let live" approach to social and moral issues, rejecting what he saw as "intolerance" in some of his colleagues. These beliefs were especially noticable when, in the mid 1970s, Gair opposed measures to restrict abortion. Barry Gustafson, in his history of the National Party, called Gair "the most effective strategist of the parliamentary pro-abortion lobby".
Gair's support of abortion earned him the hostility of many National Party colleagues, including that of the party's leader, Robert Muldoon. Muldoon was already somewhat distrustful of Gair, as Gair had occasionally been spoken of as an alternative party leader. The political styles of Muldoon and Gair were radically different - Muldoon had a reputation as being tough and confrontational, while Gair was seen as polite and diplomatic. Some members of the party who disliked Muldoon's "dictatorial" style saw Gair as a possible alternative.
In 1980, when a number of party dissidents began to plot against Muldoon's leadership, Gair was on the list of potential replacements. However, Gair was regarded as too liberal to gain majority support within the party. The dissidents eventually decided to encourage Brian Talboys, the party's deputy leader, to make a leadership bid (now called the "Colonels' Coup"). Gair was not involved in planning this bid, but was supportive of it, and worked hard to convince Talboys that a challenge was a good idea. In the end, however, Talboys bailed out, and the coup collapsed without a vote ever being taken. Gair continued to advocate a challenge, but Talboys was adamant that preserving party unity was more important than curbing Muldoon's damaging leadership style. Later, after Talboys had retired from politics, Gair supported another Muldoon opponent, Derek Quigley, to replace Talboys as deputy leader.
Some time after Muldoon was finally deposed by Jim McLay in 1984, Gair (along with Muldoon ally Bill Birch) was demoted considerably. This was intended to make room for new, younger figures, who McLay hoped would "rejuvenate" the party. The move was highly damaging to McLay, however, as it placed both Gair and Birch directly in opposition to him. As two of the most experienced people in the National Party, the two were able to mobilize substantial support in favour of McLay's main rival, Jim Bolger. Bolger quickly defeated McLay, and Gair himself took the position of deputy leader.
Shortly after Gair became deputy leader, he found himself at odds with a number of his colleagues once again. The Homosexual Law Reform Bill, a private bill by Labour's Fran Wilde to lift restrictions on homosexuality, was being hotly debated. Gair was somewhat ambivalent towards the bill, believing that while change was "long overdue", certain aspects of the bill went too far. On 2 July 1986, Gair's vote blocked a motion of closure on the bill, which would have brought it to a vote - because of bad weather, a number of the bill's supporters were unable to be in Parliament that day, and since a few votes could potentially decide the fate of the bill, Gair believed it unfair to let the vote go ahead. Had he voted for closure, the bill would probably have been defeated, and many of the bill's opponents therefore blamed Gair for its subsequent success. One week later, when the vote actually occurred, it passed only by a narrow majority - Gair himself eventually voted in favour. Gair found the entire episode highly stressful, and spoke of his desire for reconciliation.
Gair retired from Parliament at the 1990 elections. He later served as Mayor of North Shore and as High Commissioner to London.