The pre-election exigencies that acted to centralise the NewLabour Party's (NLP) organisational structure served also to make the party’s policymaking process a less than democratic and thorough affair. As a result, the early policymaking process acted as a crude filter on the diversity of perspectives within the organisation. Economic policy, in particular, was rather conservative as a result, with an essentially middle-of-the-road Keynesian approach adopted [Read more below]
Right from the foundation conference, there existed inside the party a vast array of perspectives on what should be NLP election policy — and in particular its economic policy. However, the constraints of the conference meant that not all perspectives could be fully considered by the conference. Lack of time and the large numbers of attending party members meant that the founding conference was unable to consider all points of view, or develop concrete policies. This left the National Council and the party’s sole representative in Parliament in a position of relative power to influence the development of policy over the following few months. One media observer at the founding conference predicted,
The particulars of the parliamentary system therefore acted to further magnify the concentration of power inside the NLP. The party leadership were able to take advantage of the routines and institutions of the parliamentary system, using them as resources for control.
The emergence of the NLP’s economic policy, in particular is illustrative of the nature of both political process and the relative economic conservatism that predominated in the Anderton group. When the NLP’s economic policy was eventually announced, it contained an essentially middle-of-the-road Keynesian approach. Political sociologist Jack Vowles remarked on the surprisingly moderate policy:
Likewise, the following year, when the NLP published its first ‘Alternative Budget’, it received unexpected, though understandable, praise from Sir Robert Muldoon. He described the budget as ‘a realistic and credible document in economic terms’ (quoted in the Press, 10 July 1990: p.6). This approval portrayed the degree to which the NLP’s economic policy was grounded in the tradition of ‘New Zealand-style Keynesianism’.
Evidence of the desire within the early NLP for a more leftwing economic policy can be found in the fact that at the founding conference the Economic Policy Commission failed to endorse a proposal from Anderton outlining his vision of what the NLP’s economic framework should contain. Subsequently, when Anderton took the proposal paper to the conference, their was little enthusiasm for it, and it was only endorsed after Anderton threatened that if the party did not accept the proposal, then he had nothing more to offer them as leader (McCulloch, 1989).
Second, in the Regional Party Conferences that took place later in 1990 substantial parts of the NLP’s original Economic Statement of July 1989 were either challenged or rejected. For example, delegates at the Northern conference supported a 35-hour working week, without loss of pay, at the Central Regional Conference an attempt was made during the economic debate to amend the Economic Report by deleting references to public, cooperative and private forms of ownership and replacing them with an unequivocal commitment to: ‘The socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange’. [The] resolution was defeated 42 votes to 31 (New Times, Jan/Feb 1990, p.9). The result of these was that the later 1990 Alternative Budget took a decisive turn to the left (New Times, Vol.1 No.1; CPNZ, 1989: p.12).
Despite the substantial support in the party for more radically leftwing or ‘socialist’ economic policies, Jim Anderton’s own brand of economics was essentially developed and imposed from above. Anderton had hired an economic advisory group — Integrated Economic Services — to draw up this first alternative budget. In reference to this, Bruce Jesson has said that this process ‘risks being undemocratic’ and ‘cuts off debate’ inside the party (quoted in CPNZ, 1991a: p.7). Criticising undemocratic decision-making, Francesca Holloway wrote in her resignation letter:
The intended image for the NLP’s 1990 election year economic policy was represented by the bland and uninspiring slogan: ‘fairness and balance for New Zealand’. Such political strategy was also developed by Integrated Economic Services and the Anderton group within the party’s Strategy Group.
In the end, the policies that the NLP offered electors in 1990 were reflective of the NLP’s dominant ideology of belief in a strong state. Of particular importance to the NLP election platform was re-nationalisation of state assets, the heavy re-regulation of the economy, and a high taxation and expenditure policy.
Next blog post: The NLP’s orientation to Parliament