The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Alliance (New Zealand political party)

Current Alliance logo

The Alliance, when referring to New Zealand politics, refers to a left-wing political party. The party is currently outside parliament, but has previously been a significant presence there. It suffered a major defeat after Jim Anderton, the party's leader, left the party in 2002, taking several of the party's MPs. Some commentators subsequently declared the Alliance "dead", although it intends to participate in the next elections.

Following the departure of Matt McCarten in late 2004, the Alliance does not currently have a political leader. McCarten will be replaced by two co-leaders when the Alliance selects its candidates for the next election.



The Alliance is a decidedly left-wing party. It is a strong supporter of free education, free healthcare, the reduction of unemployment, and the maintenance of the welfare state. It also has a strong emphasis on women's rights, environmentalism, and Maori rights. It is a strong supporter of New Zealand's nuclear-free policy, and believes that New Zealand should not participate in military action taken by the United States.

The party supports higher tax for wealthier people and lower taxation for poorer people. It also supports the removal of the GST tax on goods and services, claiming that the tax is unfair because the amount paid does not vary according to the purchaser's ability to afford it. Among its other economic policies are proposals to focus more on regional development and local economic planning, rather than on "big business". It also opposes the privatization of public assets, and the sale of non-urban land to foreign buyers.



The Alliance was established at the end of 1991, and was formed by the linking of four smaller parties. The oldest of these were the Democrats (originally known as the Social Credit Party, and dedicated to Social Credit policies). Also involved were Mana Motuhake (a Maori party) and the Greens (an environmentalist party). The focus of the new party, however, was the NewLabour Party, established by former Labour Party politician Jim Anderton.

Until his departure from Labour in 1989, Anderton had been the most vocal Labour MP in his criticism of his party's new direction. Led by Roger Douglas, the Minister of Finance, Labour had adopted radical policies of economic liberalization, free trade, and privatization of state assets - sharply in contrast both with the party's background and its campaign promises. This was deeply unpopular both with the public and with ordinary members, but Douglas and his allies, without effective constraint by Prime Minister David Lange, pressed on with the reforms. Anderton, despite heavy pressure from the party authorities, refused to vote in favour of the measures, and eventually quit the party. He contested the 1990 elections under the banner of NewLabour, a party he quickly established. He successfully retained his electorate seat, becoming the first MP to leave a party and not lose their position in the next elections.

NewLabour, the Democrats, and Mana Motuhake, all of which opposed the platform set out by Douglas, gradually began to work together to fight their common enemy. Initially, this co-operation was limited, but expanded after a joint candidate was successful in an Auckland local-body election. The Greens, who had policies but not party organization, also took notice.

Original Alliance logo

On 1 December 1991, NewLabour, the Greens, the Democrats, and Mana Motuhake formally agreed to establish the Alliance as an official party. This established the three original pillars of Alliance policy - left-wing economics (represented by NewLabour and the Democrats), environmentalism (represented by the Greens), and Maori issues (represented by Mana Motuhake).

Shortly after the official establishment of the Alliance, a small splinter group from the National Party applied to join. This group, known as the Liberal Party (not to be confused with the original Liberal Party), consisted of two former National Party MPs who were disillusioned with the continuation of Douglas's policies by National's Ruth Richardson. The Liberals became the fifth member of the Alliance.

There were also discussions regarding the Alliance's links with Winston Peters, a former National MP who founded the New Zealand First party. Peters was also opposed to the economic reforms being undertaken, was hostile towards big business, and claimed to support ordinary New Zealanders, but was also highly conservative in his social policies. In particular, his views on immigration were incompatible with the Alliance's belief in multiculturalism. There were also problems regarding who would lead any merged entity - both the Alliance's Anderton and New Zealand First's Peters were well regarded for standing up to their old parties, leaving it unclear which of them should be senior. (Some have also claimed that neither Anderton nor Peters would accept being ranked second - both politicians are sometimes accused by their critics of being egotistical and controlling). Regardless of the reason, the Alliance and New Zealand First did not move together.

Early electoral performance

In 1992, the Alliance contested a by-election in the electorate of Tamaki. The former stronghold of Robert Muldoon, a conservative National Party leader, Tamaki was not regarded as an easy run for the Alliance. It was, therefore, surprising when the Alliance nearly won the seat, pushing Labour into third place. Later that year, the Alliance gained control of Auckland's regional council. These two performances helped establish the Alliance as a significant threat to the major parties.

In the 1993 elections, the Alliance gained 18% of the vote. However, the electoral system meant that the party only won two seats - one delivered by Jim Anderton, and the other by Sandra Lee in Auckland. Occurring at the same time as this election, however, was the referendum which introduced the MMP electoral system, making it much easier for smaller parties to get representation. The Alliance was a strong supporter of this change.

In 1994, Jim Anderton left the leadership of the Alliance, citing family reasons. Sandra Lee was placed in charge of the party. Later, however, Anderton was persuaded to return, and resumed the leadership.

Under MMP

In the 1996 elections, the Alliance gained 10% of the vote. Under the new electoral system, this secured the party thirteen MPs. New Zealand First, however, had obtained seventeen MPs, and held the balance of power between Labour and National. Eventually, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters opted to form a coalition with National, leaving both Labour and the Alliance in opposition.

The Labour Party, now led by Helen Clark, had moved away from the policies of Roger Douglas - both Douglas and his strongest supporter, Richard Prebble, had left Labour to found the ACT party, and Clark's more traditional faction had taken over. This allowed a gradual reconciliation between Labour and the Alliance, a process assisted by the impression that lack of cooperation had cost both parties support. Eventually, this led to an agreement between the two parties, with both sides agreeing to cooperate in forming a government should election results allow it.

In 1997, the Greens decided that they would leave the Alliance at the next election, believing that they could perform better individually. Other developments in the Alliance's makeup included the formal dissolution of both the NewLabour Party and the Liberal Party, with their members becoming members of the Alliance as a whole rather than of any specific constituent party. This left the Democrats and Mana Motuhake as the only parts of the Alliance with distinct identities.

In the 1999 elections, the Alliance gained around 8% of the vote, giving it ten seats. This, combined with Labour's forty-nine seats and some support from the Greens, was enough to form a government. Jim Anderton become Deputy Prime Minister, and three other Alliance MPs gained positions in Cabinet. The Alliance claims to have made a number of significant achievements while in government, citing (among other things) the creation of the Ministry of Economic Development , the lifting of the minimum wage, a change in funding systems for schools, and abolition of market rents for state housing. The party also claims to have exerted an important general influence over other governmental decisions.


Towards the end of the parliamentary term, however, internal tensions began to grow within the Alliance. This was partly driven by the party's low poll ratings, which were often blamed on perceived "subservience" to Labour. In particular, many members of the party organization were less willing to support Labour than the party's MPs were, leading to a rift between parliamentary leader Anderton and party president Matt McCarten.

Eventually, Anderton decided to leave the Alliance and establish his own party. However, rules regarding changes of party allegiance meant that Anderton and his allies could not officially resign from the Alliance without also resigning from parliament, which they were unwilling to do. This led to the awkward situation of Anderton and his allies technically remaining part of the Alliance while actually operating outside of it. The conflict within the Alliance was one of the reasons cited by Helen Clark when, in 2002, she called elections several months early.

Anderton, along with three other Alliance MPs, established the Progressive Coalition Party (now just the Progressive Party). Three Alliance MPs, led by Laila Harré, chose to remain with the party. The remaining three MPs (two supporting Anderton, one supporting Harré) decided not to stand for parliament again. The Democrats, one of the two Alliance components still having separate identity, chose to follow Anderton, while Mana Motuhake, the other, chose to stay. Labour attempted to avoid being drawn into the dispute, and was largely successful.


In the 2002 elections, the Alliance and the Progressives competed against each other. The Alliance, believing that it would struggle to reach 5% (the threshold for a party being awarded representation proportional to its support), needed to win an electorate seat to gain entry to parliament. It chose to focus on Waitakere (contested by Harré) and Tainui (contested by Willie Jackson, leader of Mana Motuhake). In both seats, however, the Alliance came second, losing each time to a Labour candidate. As such, the Alliance failed to gain parliamentary representation.

After the election, Mana Motuhake chose to leave the Alliance. This leaves the Alliance without any actual component parties - all members are now simply members of the Alliance as a whole.

Laila Harré stepped down as the party's leader on 30 November 2003, and was replaced by Matt McCarten, the party president who Anderton had clashed with. McCarten has advocated a policy which would see the Alliance focus less on electoral activity and more on playing a co-ordinating role — he has been a particularly strong advocate of working with the new Maori Party, which he has personally been involved with. It was announced in mid-2004 that the Alliance would not contest the list vote in the 2005 elections, instead encouraging its supporters to vote for the Greens or the Maori Party. Later reports have contradicted this, however, indicating that a split is emerging in the party. Jill Ovens, a former candidate and the new party president, has been critical of McCarten's ties to the Maori Party, saying that working both for the Alliance and the Maori Party at the same time represents a conflict of interests. In late 2004, the party's membership voted to contest the list vote [1], although Gerard Hehir, the outgoing president, claims that the Alliance no longer has the five hundred financial members required for registration. Recently, McCarten and Harré have both dissassociated themselves from the Alliance to work with the Maori Party. McCarten will be replaced as leader by two co-leaders, who will be selected when the party draws up its list of candidates.

External link

Last updated: 05-22-2005 05:03:43