The formation of the NewLabour Party (NLP) involved not only ex-Labour Party members but also a number of leftwing groups, independent socialists, and those political activists drawn from the new social movements. Essentially there were three broad tendencies within the party: the ‘labourites’, the ‘social liberals’, and the ‘radical left’. This blog post details these broad and fluid factions and tendencies. [Read more below]
The labourite faction
The ‘labourites’ were the largest loose grouping inside the organisation. As we have seen, this component of the party had left the Labour Party after becoming disaffected with the actions and politics of the Fourth Labour Government. As political sociologist Jack Vowles pointed out, the NLP ‘ate deeply into the organisational fabric of the Labour Party.... [by taking] whole electorate committees, branches, and a scattering of executive members and other members active at a national level’ (Vowles, 1990: p.55).
Not surprisingly, then, most people in leadership positions in the new party were former Labour activists, and the founding conference reflected this, with commentators remarking on its similarity to Labour conferences. According to political scientist Raymond Miller, 62% of the delegates attending NLP conferences in July and August of 1990 had at some time belonged to the Labour Party (Miller, 1991: p.66). So, although not all NLP members who had at some time been in the Labour Party, could be categorised in the labourite grouping, it certainly seems likely that the labourites made up the bulk of the NLP membership. However, many in the labourite group were much less active in party affairs, preferring to remain paper members — paying their annual membership, sometimes making a donation to the party and/or providing some limited assistance during elections.
Within the labourites, the more significant activists tended to form the dominant grouping around Jim Anderton. Similarly, political party theorist Angelo Panebianco (pictured on the right) views a party as being made up of many different actors pushing a plurality of aims. Consequently, ‘organizational equilibrium depends on the way in which the leaders mediate the particular competing demands’ (Panebianco, 1988: p.9). While Panebianco agrees that the ‘principle power resources tend to be concentrated in the hands of small groups’ (Panebianco, 1988: p.37), he believes that it is more useful to conceptualise leadership as that of a dominant coalition rather than an oligarchy or party bureaucracy. To Panebianco, leadership is the ‘result of alliances between groups’ (Panebianco, 1988: p.39) or indeed ‘an alliance between groups which are, in turn, coalitions of smaller groups’ (Panebianco, 1988: p.39).
Therefore a leader, far from holding insurmountable power, must negotiate with other organisational actors. Leaders are merely at the centre of a coalition of internal party forces. So while, at first glance then, it might seem that Jim Anderton held almost absolute power within the party, on closer observation it is apparent that there was a more complex power structure inside the NLP. A leader must — more often than not — negotiate with other organisation actors (Panebianco, 1988: p.37). So it would be wrong to think that Anderton had free reign. Although he has obviously initiated many changes in the NLP, he would not be able to successfully carry these out without some negotiations with other parts of the NLP dominant coalition.
Often referred to informally as the ‘Anderton group’, it involved, in particular, the more moderate social democrats of the party: people like Matt Robson, Laila Harre, Barry Gribben, Jim Flynn (then head of the Political Studies Department at the University of Otago, pictured on the right), Sally Mitchell (who was previously Anderton’s parliamentary secretary), Petronella Townsend, Dave Alton, Robert Hawke, Karen Donaldson, and Dave Macpherson. These people tended to have come from the Labour Party, although some did have a far-left background as well, such as Matt Robson, Dave Macpherson, Paul Piesse, and Petronella Townsend. The “Anderton group” basically represented the more conservative and ambitious members of the “labourite” grouping.
There were, of course, some middle people, who were not, initially at least, part of the Anderton group. These included people such as Matt McCarten, Phil Amos, Liz Gordon (pictured on the right), and Dion Martin, who all had significant differences with the Anderton group but, when it came to crunch decisions, would usually side with them. Phil Amos, the NLP’s second party president, had previously been the Minister for Education in the Third Labour Government. Despite his solid Labour Party background, Amos was a party reformer and of the opinion that the NLP had to be very different, not only to the modern Labour Party, but even to the pre-1984 party. He consequently had a few differences with Anderton, particularly on the issues such as Anderton’s organisational and political style, which Amos regarded as over-dominating.
Matt McCarten appears to have shifted somewhat to the right of the NLP over the duration of the party’s existence. Despite coming out of a Labour Party background, McCarten (pictured on the right) was significantly to the left of most in the Labourite faction. In the initial two years of the NLP he pushed strongly for a the party that was equally concerned with grass-roots activism as it was with a parliamentary focus — he even advocated that the NLP should restrict membership of the party to party activists. McCarten used his outgoing presidential address in 1990, to stress the important of the party being involved in linking up with action in the labour movement, yet for his incoming president’s address to the 1991 annual conference he stressed ‘the importance of the three “P’s” over the next year: “Publications”, “Premises” and “Professionals” ’ (NLP, 1991b: p.6). Before the advent of the Alliance, McCarten was strongly opposed to any coalition with other minor parties, however by 1993 he had become the Executive Director of the Alliance. As time went on he became very close to Anderton.
The social liberals
The 'social liberals' were probably the second most important grouping involved in the early NLP organisation. Members that had come out of the new social movements made up a significant portion of party activists. These people tended to come out of an educated liberal middle class milieu in society.
Commenting on the NLP’s founding conference, Jack Vowles observed that,
New social movements were strongly represented, the party making considerable concessions to environmentalism, antiracism, the Maori cause, and to feminism, and staking a claim to peace and anti-nuclear policies somewhat to the left of old Labour (Vowles, 1990: p.59).
The most prominent were people like Francesca Holloway, Trish Mullens, Chris Trotter, Erin Horsley, Carol Ann Bradford, Phillida Bunkle (pictured on the right), and Paula Singh. Although leftwing, the social liberals, Jesson points out, had some important differences with the more established leftwing currents in New Zealand:
Unlike the working-class movements of earlier eras, the protest movement was almost completely uninterested in economics. Protest politics was about foreign policy and moral issues, it was hostile to authority and to traditional moral codes, and its bias if anything was against the state. It was also a highly individualistic movement, concerned with individual rights, individual freedom and individual conscience.... And unlike earlier radical movements, the protest movement was liberal rather than socialist, a leftish liberalism but a liberalism nonetheless (Jesson, 1989a: p.29).
Although the social liberals did not represent traditional labourite values, many of them had become involved in the Labour Party during the late 1970s and early 1980s. They joined the Labour Party, then, not because of what the party had historically stood for, but as Bruce Jesson recounts, in reaction to the conservative reign of Robert Muldoon:
It appeared a depressing time politically to the ex-activists of the protest movement, a time of dark reaction and little overt political opposition. The members of the liberal milieu felt thoroughly estranged during Muldoon’s period of rule because it seemed that he represented the basic — and to them unacceptable — values of New Zealand society’ (Jesson, 1989a: p.31).
In the New Zealand context the social liberals were therefore non-conformists. They therefore brought a focus to the NLP that was a refreshing contrast to the more conventional social democratic politics propagated by the dominant labourites. However, precisely because of the dominance of this latter grouping, the politics of the social liberals were not particularly central to NLP policies, and even more rarely reflected in the public image of the party.
The radical left
Although the 'radical left' made up the smallest section of the NLP, they were highly active in the party and usually well organised. This had an effect of magnifying their impact and visibility. Many of the organisations that had attempted to build leftwing alternatives to the Labour Government in the years preceding the formation of the NLP, had either joined the party or dissolved their groups into it. Of most importance were the Workers Communist League (later known as Left Currents), the Communist Left (later becoming Workers Power), and the Permanent Revolution Group (PRG). These organisations initially constituted a considerable force within the new organisation.
Much of this far-left element advocated a revolutionary approach to meeting working class interests. Their reasons for involvement in the party were therefore other than parliamentary. At this time, involvement in the NLP did not entail a belief in parliamentarianism — nothing in the NLP constitution conflicted with either the far-left’s approach to social change or their involvement in the party. (Most revolutionary socialist groups do not oppose the fight for reforms, nor are they opposed to standing for parliament. They believe that the fight for reforms is a crucial part of any strategy for revolutionary change. However, they argued that reforms would not be enough to bring about social justice and that the fight for working class reforms would have to be extended to the fight for the overthrow of capitalism.)
The Trotskyist Permanent Revolution Group (PRG) stated that they joined because they believed that the NLP had the potential to become ‘a genuine mass workers’ party’ (PRG, 1990b: p.2) and because the ‘establishment of the NLP put working-class politics back on the mainstream political agenda. It promised a focal point for mobilising for some important immediate reforms and a forum for left-wing discussion and debate’ (BC, 1990: p.1).
The radical left groups and individuals advocated policy mainly concerned with economic issues. For example, many campaigned for a reduction in the working week without loss of pay, nationalisation of industry and commerce, a substantially more progressive taxation policy, and a full employment policy that included massive public works. They also advocated abortion rights and 24-hour free child-care. Also, because of their internationalist dimension, they opposed all import controls and immigration quotas. In terms of issues of party organisation they wanted a pro-socialist activist party, that was involved in mobilising grass-roots actions in favour of working class interests.
However, NLP members who considered themselves to be ‘socialist’ did not exist only on the fringes of the party. Many of Anderton’s own closest allies within the new party were, according to Chris Trotter, a member of the first NLP National Council, ‘considerably more radical than Anderton himself. A fair proportion of them had served their political apprenticeships in or around the Marxist parties that sprang into existence during the 1970s’ (Trotter, 1992d: pp.22, 23).
Of both the appointed Interim National Council and first elected National Council, Keith Locke, Lew Stribling, Francesca Holloway, Paul Piesse (pictured on the right), Petronella Townsend and Matt Robson had all come into the party after previous involvement in the Socialist Action League (SAL). (Additionally, a founding SAL leader, Hector MacNeil, was elected to the National Council in 1991). Sue Bradford, and Dave Macpherson had came out of the Workers Communist League.
Other important figures in the NLP, such as Bruce Jesson, and Len Richards (pictured on the right) also came out of socialist politics. Bruce Jesson, an ‘independent socialist’ or ‘Marxist’ (Jesson, 1992: p.54) came to be more and more involved in the party organisation, later winning seats on both the Auckland Region Council and the Auckland Regional Services Trust. However, he still called himself a ‘Marxist’, and was often out of favour with the Anderton group because of his public pronouncements on party affairs.
Next blog post: Loose and fluid alliances