The rise and fall of the Alliance party (and the continuation of Jim Anderton’s solo party in Parliament) presents some interesting examples of the weak relationships that modern minor political parties have with third parties. [Read more below]
Integrating with the electorate has always been an important stated goal for the Alliance. Rather than merely behaving as an elite parliamentary force, an attempt has been made to be a grassroots organisation involved in community affairs.
The Alliance aimed to be a ‘three-year operation’ rather than something that just interacts with the community at election time. The Alliance was keen to go against the tide in which Matt McCarten puts it, ‘Labour and National have completely obliterated themselves at local level. All they are is electoral machines that roll out every three years’ (quoted in Harris, 1993f: p.17). Dave McPherson, formerly an Alliance worker, has also stated, ‘One of the strengths of the Alliance is our heavy involvement in local campaigns. I would hate to become a once-every-three-years party which only comes out for election campaigns’ (quoted in McLoughlin, 1994c: p.64).
In the past the party claimed a solid membership base and a network that is active in the community. However, like most other political parties that have established themselves in recent decades, the Alliance lacks any solid ties with any organised section of society. At the time of the NewLabour Party’s (NLP) formation in 1989, some of those involved hoped to obtain trade union support for the party, but unions had by this stage made deliberate decisions to be non-aligned. The unions that were disaffiliating from the Labour Party were partly doing so in order to become unaligned to political parties per se – which was the general trend for all organised sections of society. There were, however, many individual unionists involved in the party’s creation – in particular, ‘nine of the original fifteen members of the original NLP National Council were unionists, including Otago CTU President Michael Hanifin’ (Sheppard, 1999: p.183).
According to Simon Sheppard, ‘the overriding reason why Anderton failed to take the union movement with him when he left Labour was the fact that, in reality, he had almost no chance of unravelling the near symbiotic link between the trade unions and Labour Party hierarchies. In cold political terms he had nothing better to offer them’ (Sheppard, 1999: p.183). Also, Anderton had a poor relationship with trade union leaders and had in the past been ambiguous in his support for their involvement in the Labour Party. Yet the Alliance received financial and political support from the CTU-breakaway Trade Union Federation and its affiliate, the Seafearers Union. The Trade Union Federation (TUF) was an umbrella group of 14 unions representing about 35,000 workers. It was seen as being partially aligned to the Alliance – mirroring the CTU’s alignment to the Labour Party. Most famously, in the 1994 Selwyn by-election the federation backed the Alliance candidate in the belief that the Alliance had the best chance of winning the seat off National. Particular unions that have been sympathetic to the Alliance have included the Seamen, the Labourers’ Union, the Tramways Union, the Northern Distribution Union and Wood Industries Union (Harris, 1993f: p.17). TUF itself reunited with the CTU in 2000.
By the time of the 1999 general election the party also received official CTU support for the first time, and a $20,000 donation from the Engineers Union. McCarten declared that ‘Although the Council of Trade Unions’ position was to support a Labour-led government, many unions adopted a more even-handed stance, giving financial support to both partners and allowing Alliance and Labour speakers equal prominence at union meetings’ (McCarten, 2000: p.38). In terms of trade unions, the Alliance has claimed that it prefers not to have union affiliates because the party believes that unions should maintain their independence.
In 2000 the Alliance created its own internal union grouping, ‘The Workers Alliance’, which attempted to fill the large organisational vacuum created on the left of the union movement by the dissolution of the NLP and the unification of the TUF with the CTU. This organisation never succeeded as few workers ever joined it. Certainly it seems that few trade unionists belong to the party. When the Alliance asked their members to identify the union to which they belonged during the party’s 2000 membership renewal, only about 150 members indicated that they were in a union, suggesting that the Alliance had only a small reach into New Zealand’s organised labour movement of around 250,000 (Alliance, 2000b).
Despite the Alliance’s stated desire to integrate itself into the social fabric of the trade union movement, a charge could be made that it has been less than enthusiastic in its attempt to align the party with other groups. For example, the Alliance rejected a closer relationship with the 5,000-strong Auckland People’s Centre, when in 1993 it rejected the application for party membership of its chief executive, Sue Bradford (Trotter, 1993a: p.10). However the Alliance has attempted to forge a relationship with the New Zealand Students Association (NZUSA), which has been partially successful. As a result NZUSA jointly hosted three student debt summits with Laila Harré when she was Minister of Youth Affairs. A number of Alliance members have also staffed the association’s head office.
The Progressive Party has few links with other organisations. Initially it incorporated the Democratic Party, who departed after the 2002 election. The Progressives has been closely associated with the state institutions. Kiwibank was a policy initiative of Jim Anderton’s, and he has been keen to associate his party with it. He has even sent out information on the bank to party members and the public asking them to join it. Anderton was also the driving force in the creation of the Ministry of Economic Development (MED). When he was Minister of Economic Development, Jim Anderton had a number of staff from MED working in his parliamentary office and he worked extremely closely with the ministry.
[To be updated: please make any suggestions of other Alliance or Progressive third party linkages in the comments section below]