As political scientist Dennis Kavanagh has pointed out, the social transformation did not lead the party to be ‘deflected from a militant radical socialist outlook’ (Kavanagh, 1982: p.105) — this had happened decades earlier, as Bruce Curtis has detailed (Curtis, 1989a and 1989b). But the changes in class composition and orientation from the late 1960s onwards did have important consequences, as outlined by Geoff Debnam:
The resulting alienation of working-class members shifts the foundations of the party even further. The new membership is self-opinionated and is emotionally independent of its leader. But, because it is preoccupied with discrete concerns such as foreign policy, defence, the environment, education, health, and so on, and not motivated by economic self-interest, the effect is to create a state of intellectual dependence in the most crucial area of party policy. A more-educated membership may be less manipulable, but in economic policy it has been wide open to betrayal by the party intellectuals (Debnam, 1994: p.65).
This is not an argument that was totally foreign to NLP participants. Prior to the formation of the Alliance, many in the NLP were suspicious of the other third parties. Workers Voice reported from the June 1990 party conference that:
McCarten said all the ‘third’ parties had approached the NLP with ideas for helping each other get into parliament. He told conference that these parties have politics very different to the NLP since they represent the middle class. McCarten admitted some ‘social liberals’ had joined the NLP but again reminded delegates: ‘We want to represent working people’ (CPNZ, 1990a, p.6).
Nevertheless, there was a clear shift in the way the NLP presented itself, and then with the rise of the Alliance, an intensification of this shift. In its early years, the NLP always claimed to represent the working class constituency that they believed the Labour Party had abandoned in the 1980s. Senior party members, such as Matt McCarten described the NLP as a ‘party of the poor’ (quoted in CPNZ, 1991d: p.27). The membership of the party reflected this claim, with McCarten stating in 1991 that two thirds of party members are beneficiaries (CPNZ, 1991d: p.27).
Certainly in the 1990 general election, the NLP attempted to position itself as a party of the working class. As Jack Vowles and Peter Aimer suggested, the NLP ‘constructed itself a more class-homogeneous constituency than any other party’ (Vowles and Aimer, 1993: p.164), and that their own research provided evidence for ‘the claim that the traditional working class lies at the core of NewLabour’s electoral position’ (Vowles and Aimer, 1993: p.161).
The Alliance’s ‘class-neutral’ support
In contrast with the NLP, the Alliance failed to attain the same identification as a working class party:
In traditional terms, the Alliance appears to have been almost ‘class-neutral’, or perhaps more accurately ‘class-balanced’, in 1993, as a result of the convergence of NewLabour and the Greens within the wider Alliance grouping in 1991, and the consequent broadening of its constituency beyond any one of its component parties (Vowles et al., 1995: p.26).
Bruce Jesson was also troubled over the identity issue: ‘A more fundamental problem is the fact that the election results don’t reveal any specific constituency for the Alliance’ (Jesson, 1994: p.6). Whereas the NLP in 1990 performed well in predominantly working class seats like Mangere (13% of the vote), Avon (12%), Christchurch Central (11.5%), Auckland Central (11%), Westcoast, and Sydenham, in the 1993 elections ‘the Alliance did better in blue ribbon National seats like North Shore and Tamaki, and in rural seats like Franklin and Matakana, than it did in Mangere or Otara’ (Jesson, 1994: p.5).
This was surely connected to the class nature of the four other Alliance parties. So while the NLP reflected a manual working class constituency, ‘The Greens tend to be self-employed, salaried or in the fringe economy’ (Jesson, 1992e: p.12). The Democrats and the Liberals were orientated mainly towards the interests of middle class, or small business, type voters. Whilst being an ethnic-based party, Mana Motuhake was probably the closest to the NLP in terms of class-basis.
‘By working people, with working people, and for working people’
The difference between the rhetoric of the NLP leadership in the first year and that of the mid-1990s was indicative of the substantial moderation. In 1989 Jim Anderton told the party’s Northern Conference that ‘New Labour is the only political movement in New Zealand preparing itself to shape the future by working people, with working people, and for working people’ (quoted in New Times, Jan/Feb 1990, p.9). By comparison the Alliance publications and media releases were devoid of any reference to either the ‘working class’ or ‘working people’. Typically, the 1995 Alliance Alternative Budget was entitled: ‘A Plan for All New Zealanders’.
Anderton’s previous success in recruiting significant non-working class elements to Labour during his party presidency found its complement in the creation of the Alliance a decade later. Equally, the moderation of economic policy and downplaying of class was merely being repeated, albeit in a new setting.
Next blog post: Conclusions (part 1)