When the United Party was established in 1995, it appeared to be the ultimate elite-cadre type party, set up from within Parliament by MPs rather than by any strong social force. As a result it had only a very insignificant-sized membership. [Read more below]
The predecessor to United was Peter Dunne’s Future New Zealand (of no relation to the Christian party of the same name) – which was set up in 1994 by the defecting Labour MP. Despite Dunne signalling his departure from Labour well in advance, when he eventually set up the new party, Future NZ fell short of recruiting the necessary 500 members for registration as a party. However when United New Zealand was established in July 1995, this new party ‘had little difficulty in overcoming the hurdle, passing the 500 member threshold within its first week of existence’ (Jackson and McRobie 1998: p.298).
In 1996 United claimed to have only 1789 members. Following the 1996 election, membership initially dropped away, but party leader Peter Dunne soon negotiated to absorb three other minor parties – the Conservatives, the Ethnic Minority Party and Advance New Zealand – all of which had previously met the membership criteria set by the Electoral Commission, and were thus able to supply United with a substantial number of new members.
By 2002, however, there were reports that membership numbers had dropped substantially, and there was speculation that United had fewer than the 500 members required for registration with the Electoral Commission (Milne, 2002d; 2002f). The United Party’s decline was less of a problem, however, because in 2001 it united with the Future New Zealand party, which had claimed in 1999 to have 2,800 members (NZPA, 28 May 1999: p.2). Since then the departure of many of the Christian elements of United Future has led to resurgent allegations that the membership numbers have again dropped below 500.
[This blog post is to be updated – any feedback or further information is very welcome]