After leaving the National Party it was entirely inevitable that Peters would establish his own political party. For some time there appeared to be a chance that he would join the Alliance. In December 1991, Peters was approached by the Alliance to join their coalition. Significantly, the approach came with the offer of the leadership of the Alliance. [Read more below]
In reality Peters joining the Alliance was always unlikely. The political constituencies of the two political forces were never compatible enough to bring a solid and credible union: ‘The Alliance was a grouping of the forces of the left. Peters' constituencies included blue collar workers, but generally consisted of disaffected elements from middle NZ’ (Hames, 1995: p.187).
There were also potential problems of personality, which worked against a merger occurring, as it was hard to envisage Peters and Anderton working well together (Hames, 1995: p.186). According to Michael Laws, at that time the two things that Peters claimed that he ‘most disliked about the Alliance were the separate party structures and Jim Anderton' (Laws, 1998: p.232).
It is likely that neither the Alliance leadership, nor Peters, ever really wanted to work together. Instead, according to Hames, both Anderton and Peters merely ‘knew they needed to be seen to make an attempt to explore common ground’ (Hames, 1995: p.187). Therefore the negotiations that took place were ‘mainly for the sake of form' (Hames, 1995: p.187).
Peters’ partial motivation in having the discussions was, it seems, the hope that when the talks failed he would detach both the Liberal Party and a good section of the Democrats, and thereby incorporate them into his own planned party (Kilroy, 6 Sep 1993: p.2). That such people would leave the Alliance was an impression apparently given to Peters by Liberal Party Leader Gilbert Myles, who did indeed leave the Liberal Party and the Alliance when Peters launched NZ First.
Furthermore, within the Alliance, the Liberal Party played a strong role in the negotiations, with Myles offering Peters the leadership of the Liberal Party. And indeed, when the talks did eventually fail, a substantial section of the Liberals left. Later, some Democrats also defected to NZ First, including Garry Knapp, Terry Heffernan and Tamaki by-election candidate Chris Leitch.
When negotiations with the Alliance broke down in July 1993, it was, according to Hames, ‘clearly Peters who had been dragging the chain, failing to negotiate face-to-face and refusing to discuss policy. Peters had wanted legal discussions on how all parties could be bound to stay within the Alliance after the election' (Hames, 1995: p.191). In the end, however, it was the Alliance who broke the talks off ‘a week before Peters' foundation of NZ First, thus taking the initiative away from him' (Vowles, 1994: pp.384-385).
There was obviously strong reason for Peters to start his own separate party. Peters was receiving many positive messages about the prospects of such a party. For instance, one opinion poll 'showed that 31 per cent of the respondents said they would vote for a Peters party' (Hames, 1995: p.191). However ‘Peters' support began to fall after the formation of NZ First, probably affected by perceptions that he had failed to seek seriously an accommodation with the Alliance' (Vowles, 1994: p.385).
[This blog post is part of a series about the history of the New Zealand First party. These posts are being published following the recent decline and then defeat of the party at the 2008 general election. Little academic research has been published on the Winston Peters phenomenon, despite the fact that he and his party have been central to parliamentary politics in New Zealand since the 1980s. Although this series focuses on the early years of New Zealand First, the later years will be dealt with in the future. Considered feedback from readers is very welcome.]