The establishment of the Alliance, was a major turning point for many of those who remained in the radical left faction of the NLP. While some of the radical left capitulated to the swell of enthusiasm for an Alliance, others were concerned with the opportunism which they perceived in the NLP’s involvement in the Alliance. After all, membership of the Alliance depended less on what a party stood for, than what it stood against. Hence all five Alliance parties stood for distinctly different politics when they joined, but claimed a commonality in what they opposed — neoliberal economic policy. [Read more below]
Negotiations with Winston Peters
This lowest-common denominator approach meant that for a long time the Alliance leadership even tried to entice rebel National Party MP Winston Peters to join the coalition — with Anderton even offering Peters the Alliance’s leadership. This occurred despite the fact that many on the left of the NLP, such as Bruce Jesson, regarded Peters as ‘a traditionalist on both social and economic matters, that is a traditionalist of the Right’ (Jesson, 1993: p.4).
Winston Peters’ own involvement in negotiations with Alliance executive director Matt McCarten, led him to believe that ‘NewLabour despises its four other coalition partners in the Alliance’ (The Press, 16 June 1995, p.6). The Press reported that, during a personal meeting between Peters and Matt McCarten in mid-1993:
If Peters’ story is true — and it was not exactly denied by McCarten — then a charge of ‘opportunism’ on the part of the NLP in forging the Alliance is perhaps not unwarranted.
The Alliance’s formation was therefore about forging an electoral relationship on the basis of the dictum that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ rather than any solid agreement on principles. After all, there were in fact considerable differences between the individual Alliance parties.
Resignation of two activists
These differences were highlighted by the resignation from the NLP of two former parliamentary candidates in September 1992. Marinus La Rooij and John Moore (pictured on the right) issued a joint statement and an open letter to NLP members in which they claimed that the NLP’s involvement in the Alliance amounted to a betrayal of the party’s founding principles. They argued that rather than being ‘a vehicle for progressive change.... [the Alliance is merely] a cynical attempt to gain votes’ at the expense of their principles (La Rooij and Moore, 1992a). They were highly critical of the party’s own leadership, for having ‘misinformed’ party members about the substantial differences between the Democrats, Liberals, and Greens and the NLP.
La Rooij (pictured on the right) and Moore claimed that the NLP leadership had attempted to persuade the membership that these parties held ‘similar beliefs and values to the NLP’ (La Rooij and Moore, 1992a: p1). Their own experience working in the Alliance, La Rooij and Moore claimed, led them to conclude that ‘there is no natural agreement on ideas. All the Alliance seems to represent is to eject Labour and National from power, but we ask — replace them with what?’ (La Rooij and Moore, 1992b).
In terms of the Greens, La Rooij and Moore argued, ‘The Green Party initially resisted joining the Alliance, due to its “left-wing tendencies” ’ (La Rooij and Moore, 1992b). The open letter stated: ‘They and the Democrats have generally shown themselves here in Dunedin as being conservative on issues as crucial as women’s human rights and Maori self-empowerment’ (La Rooij and Moore, 1992b).
Apprehension about the Greens
Bruce Jesson, who had been, by his own admission, ‘one of the strongest advocates of the Alliance within the NLP’ started to voice his reservations about the Greens in 1992. In an article entitled, ‘Are the Greens Worth the Effort?’, Jesson argued that the diversity and organisational structurelessness of the Greens had been paralysing the Alliance and that some of the Greens ‘are very right wing’ (Jesson, 1992b: p.3).
Following this, Jesson was at times very frank about the discontent within the NLP about their involvement with the Greens and about the rift between the two parties (Jesson, 1991b, 1992b, and 1992e). It was certainly the case that the Greens held, along with their ‘radical’ politics, some right of centre views. As Atkinson has pointed out, ‘As an ideological collectivity... they comprise a complex, intricately connected weave of both radical and conservative elements’ (Atkinson, 1993: p.57). And there is certainly some apprehension within the NLP about the organisational and political style of the Greens.
After leaving the NLP in 1990, Sue Bradford went on to become involved in the Green Party for a short period. Speaking about this period later in an interview, Bradford maintained that,
Apprehension about the Democrats
The Democrats, too, were a cause for doubts within the NLP, especially within the leftwing section of the membership. Broadly, the Democrats have historically placed an emphasis on representing the interests of small business and small farmers. Consequently the party tended to contain rightwing ideas about industrial relations, which were often expressed in anti-union sentiments.
However, the Democrats had moderated their social credit policies, especially with the shift from being ‘Social Credit’ to the ‘Democrats’. Ditching a portion of their social credit emphasis, they adopted elements of Keynesian economic policy. In terms of non-economic issues, however, the Democrats held some socially conservative positions that reflected their traditionalism. For example, their sexual politics were very traditional. As one senior NLP member put it: ‘their sexual politics are terrible. They have some conservatisms’ (Interview).
Some NLP members found the Democrats’ past record particularly troubling, in that when previously in Parliament, its MPs had campaigned and voted against homosexual law reform, and voted for the Clyde Dam project. Historically, too, there had been strong elements of anti-Semitism in their Social Credit ideology. The Democrats’ 1990 election campaign was also notable for the stress it put on the importance of the family.
In terms of the Democrats, La Rooij and Moore recounted that, ‘their members reflect the concerns of conservative, anti-worker, small business people. Here in Dunedin we have found them aggressive, reactionary, hostile and generally uncommitted to the principles we stand for’ (La Rooij and Moore, 1992b).
In responding to the allegations of La Rooij and Moore, the president of the NLP, Matt McCarten, said, ‘There is an element of truth in that. Sections of the Greens are conservative, and the Democrats consider themselves a centre-right party, in the New Zealand context anyway. So, I mean, that’s fair enough’ (quoted in CPNZ, 1992c, p.17).
When the Alliance leadership opened the door for the entry of the Liberals into the Alliance, dissatisfaction and concern among some sections of the NLP increased. The Liberals were a minuscule organisation launched by National Party breakaway MPs Hamish MacIntyre and Gilbert Myles. The Liberals claimed to represent a party of private enterprise, and in a sense they probably aimed to capture the traditionalist constituency that the National Party once represented under Muldoon. This was made more obvious when Liberal leader, Gilbert Myles and party president, Malcolm Wright, left the party for Winston Peters’ New Zealand First organisation.
The NLP-left were, no doubt, concerned that the inclusion of such a party as an equal partner within the Alliance would reinforce the growing power of the rightwing of the organisation. However, the NLP leadership argued that including partners like the Liberals would be vital to winning the votes of ‘middle New Zealand’ (CPNZ, 25 February 1992, p.20).
La Rooij and Moore reported that ‘many other members of the NLP also feel dissatisfied with the Alliance, and several others have dropped out of the party for this reason’ (La Rooij and Moore, 1992a). Subsequent to their resignation, a Manukau city councillor, Alan Johnson, pulled out of the Alliance local body ticket in reaction to what he called the ‘opportunists’ and ‘right-wingers’ in the organisation. Johnson claimed that the Alliance was made up of diverse groups who ‘basically have very little in common’, trying to ‘work on something and then prepared to gloss over the cracks’ (CPNZ, 1993b: p.32).
However, despite the open objections of some NLP members, and a number of party activists falling away from the party, the majority of NLP members, appeared to be supportive of the performance of the party’s leadership and the formation of the Alliance. As Workers Voice noted: ‘such tensions have been temporarily obscured by the euphoria inside NewLabour over the prospect of the Alliance becoming the second — perhaps even the major — party in the land’ (CPNZ, 1991b: p.25).
Next blog post: Principle and pragmatism