Despite having only a tiny party organisation, the United Future party has had some interesting third party linkages – mostly with ethnic minority and Christian organisations. [Read more below]
United Future New Zealand was formed out of two component parties – United New Zealand and Future New Zealand. The first was built up with little in the way of links with civil society. Instead, it was the classic internally-created party, established in 1995 by parliamentarians without prior demand for it by any part of the electorate.
After the 1996 election – in which United won only 0.88% of the party vote (but held Peter Dunne’s electorate) – the party sought to ensure its survival by amalgamating with many of the other minor centre and centre-right parties that had been launched to take advantage of the new PR electoral system. The first three parties to merge were Advance New Zealand, the Ethnic Minority Party, and the Conservatives (formerly named the Right of Centre party). Following these mergers, United sought to utilise ‘the new ethnic and rural networks’ to ‘bring in two or three per cent of the party list vote’ (Sheppard, 1997: p.9). The party marketed its 1999 party list on the diverse ethnicity of its candidates. As a reflection of United New Zealand’s liberal politics, the party has also been associated with a now defunct website called Wide Awake (www.wideawake.co.nz). While not closely linked with the party, this website has the appearance of a think tank or interest group, but is in fact owned by United.
In 2000 United merged with the Christian party Future New Zealand (formerly the Christian Democrats), taking on the new name of United Future New Zealand, and picking up new links into some of the Christian churches. In its early days the Christian Democrats had close links with the conservative Education Development Foundation – and the head of the foundation, Bruce Logan, was an adviser to the party. Other organisations with links to the Christian Democrats included the Life Education Trust, Youth for Christ, the Bible Society, Family Life International, the Campaign On Moral Education, and the Strategic Leadership Network (Heeringa, 1995: pp.80, 83).
Then in 1998 when the party changed its name, much of the organisation also changed. The leader, Graeme Lee, retired and Anthony Walton of ‘The Rock’ church took over. Walton’s church, of which he is the minister, became one of the main organisational support bases for the party.
The merged United Future party then became dominated by Walton’s Future New Zealand component, but the alignments with Christian institutions appear to be weak. It is not hard to understand that the Christian parties have sought linkages with the churches because ‘church networks are stronger and more monied than political parties’ (Clifton, 1998f: p.27). However according to James, although Future New Zealand had ‘networks among the churches and conservative pressure groups’, there do not appear to be many strong institutional ties between churches and parties (James, 1995e: p.13). The vast majority of churches have chosen to remain independent of party politics. None of the churches appear to have endorsed United Future, apart from Walton’s own church. An indication of this is that in Southland, the Otatara Community Church pastor Dean Comerford made headlines in 2002 when he sent an email to 500 people, including his congregation, encouraging them to vote for United Future (Arnold, 2002).
Three former United Future MPs had strong backgrounds in Christian organisations: one-time deputy leader Gordon Copeland was financial administrator of the Catholic Church for 18 years, while Larry Baldock and Bernie Ogilvy have been directors of the evangelical Youth with a Mission (Campbell, 2002b: pp.22, 23).
[To be updated: please make any suggestions of other United Future third party linkages in the comments section below]