Twenty years ago today – on May Day, 1989 - the NewLabour Party was formed. This was a significant leftwing split from the Labour Party, and began the creation of a vital force in New Zealand politics during the 1990s – the Alliance party. To mark the twentieth anniversary of founding of the NewLabour Party (NLP), I’m publishing a series of blog posts on the early years of the NLP and the Alliance. This contains research I carried out on this political project back in 1995. [Read more below]
Introduction to the topic
In April 1989, Jim Anderton resigned from the New Zealand Labour Party (NZLP), and with other groups and individuals, around the country formed the NewLabour Party (NLP) on May Day of that year. The NLP’s formation was the cumulation of a period of resistance by left-wing activists, both inside and outside of the Labour Party, to what they perceived as the implementation of New Right economic and social policies by the fourth Labour government.
In the early stages, the NLP attempted to position itself as a party primarily representing the interests of the working class. However as time went by, the party’s policies and public became less and less identified with working class interests. The NLP became part of the Alliance, which claimed to speak for and represent the interests of all New Zealanders. Electoral policy, and in particular economic policy, was moderated under pressure to appeal to the interests of a larger constituency.
Likewise, when the NLP was founded, the membership agreed to make the party an organisation that concentrated equally on parliamentary efforts to gain seats in parliament (a top-down approach) and on efforts to foster mass grass roots activism against attacks on working class interests (a bottom-up approach). However, eventually virtually all party resources and activity were channelled into a parliamentary-orientated focus.
The composition, organisation, and orientation of the NLP changed dramatically. Control of the organisation became concentrated in the hands of an increasingly oligarchical leadership. Consequently, the organisation that NLP members were involved in building quickly became a qualitatively different organisation to what it was in 1989.
So although the NLP emerged out of opposition to a perceived right-ward transformation of the NZLP, there seems reason to believe that the NLP itself became subject to a shift of a similar nature. The NLP can therefore be seen as a reaction to and also a further continuation of a rightward deradicalisation process.
This series of blog posts provides an examination of the actual processes by which the NLP underwent its transformation, and therefore also an attempt to provide an explanation for the evolution of the NLP and of social democracy in general. It asks: How did the party shift from attempting to represent the interests of workers to the position of claiming to represent the interests of all New Zealanders? When did the process start? What were the key stages in the transformation? It also traces responses to the evolution — how the diverse actors in the organisation interpreted and responded to party change.