New Zealand National Party

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Current National Party logo

The New Zealand National Party currently forms the second-largest (in terms of seats) political party in the New Zealand Parliament, and thus functions as the core of the Opposition. "National" has become the largest (in terms of membership) centre-right conservative political party in New Zealand.



The National Party presently advocates policies of reducing taxes, reducing social welfare payments, promoting free trade, maintaining "traditional" defence and security alliances, and ending what it sees as "privileges" for Maori. The party's policy documents contain commitments to "doubling" New Zealand's economic growth, to giving welfare payments only to "those in genuine need", and to "speedy, full and final settlements to historic Treaty claims."


Starting as a balanced urban/rural movement, National has seemed to appeal more consistently to country voters. Its relative lack of representation in the Auckland conurbation has at times caused concern.


National features regional and electoral organisational structures. A Party President heads the administration outside the National parliamentary caucus.

Historically, the youth wing, the Young Nationals, commonly known as the "Young Nats", has provided much political impetus: it gained a reputation as "the" social organisation in rural New Zealand.


The National Party officially formed in 1936, but its roots considerably pre-date that period. The party formed as the result of a merger between the United Party (known as the Liberal Party until 1927) and the Reform Party. The United Party gained its main support from the cities, and drew upon businesses for money and upon middle class electors for votes, while the Reform Party had a rural base and received substantial support from farmers.

Initially, the Liberal and Reform parties competed against each other, but from 1931 until 1935 a coalition between the United and Reform parties held power in New Zealand. The coalition went into the 1935 election under the title of the "National Political Federation", a name adopted to indicate that the new group would serve New Zealanders from all backgrounds (in contrast to the previous situation, where United served city-dwellers and Reform served farmers). The new coalition, however, lost heavily in 1935 to the Labour Party, the rise of which had originally prompted the alliance.

A new party, called the New Zealand National Party, formed at a meeting held in Wellington on May 13 and 14, 1936. Erstwhile members of the United and Reform parties made up the bulk of the new party. George Forbes, Prime Minister from 1930 until 1935 and United Party Leader, opened the conference: he served as Leader of the Opposition and of the New Zealand National Party until October 1936, when the party elected Adam Hamilton as Leader. Hamilton led the Party into its first election in 1938. He became the leader primarily due to a compromise between George Forbes (leader of United) and Gordon Coates (leader of Reform). Hamilton, however, failed to counter Labour's popular Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage effectively. This, along with perceptions that he remained too much under the control of Coates and that he lacked real support from his party colleagues, saw Hamilton fail to prevent Labour's re-election in 1938.

In 1940 Sidney Holland replaced Hamilton. The 1943 election saw Labour's majority reduced, but it remained in power. In the 1946 elections, National also failed to unseat Labour. However, in the 1949 elections, thirteen years after the party's foundation, National finally won power, and Holland became Prime Minister.

Under Holland, the National Party won re-election twice (in the 1951 elections and the 1954 elections). Towards the end of his third term, however, Holland became increasingly ill, and stepped down from the leadership shortly before the general election in 1957. Keith Holyoake, the party's long-standing deputy leader, took Holland's place.

In the election later that year, Labour under Walter Nash defeated Holyoake's National Party. However, Nash's government proved very unpopular, primarily due to matters of economics and taxation. After only one term in office, Labour suffered defeat at the hands of Holyoake in the elections of 1960. Holyoake's government lasted twelve years, gaining re-election three times (in 1963, 1966, and 1969). National's dominance began to wane in this period however: the Social Crediters broke the National/Labour duopoly in parliament, beginning to win former National seats from 1966. Holyoake retired from the Prime Ministership and from the Party leadership at the beginning of 1972: Jack Marshall replaced him.

In the 1972 elections, the National Party lost heavily to Labour, led by the popular Norman Kirk. In response, National removed Marshall as leader and replaced him with Robert Muldoon, who had previously served as Minister of Finance. Muldoon assumed the leadership in 1974. The electorate expected an intense contest between Kirk and Muldoon, both formidable politicians.

Kirk, however, died in office (1974). His replacement, Bill Rowling, performed poorly against Muldoon, and National won office in the 1975 elections. The Muldoon administration, which favoured interventionist economic policies, arouses mixed opinions amongst the majority free-market adherents of the modern National. The "Think Big" initiatives, designed to invest public money in major projects, stand in contrast to the party's modern views. Muldoon's interventionist economics, increasingly unpopular with both the public and the party, caused an attempted leadership change in 1980. Led by ministers Derek Quigley, Jim McLay, and Jim Bolger, the challenge against Muldoon aimed to replace him with Brian Talboys, his deputy. However, the plan collapsed as the result of Talboys' unwillingness, and Muldoon kept his position.

A former National Party logo

Dissent within Muldoon's own Party continued to grow, however. Rebel National MPs Marilyn Waring and Mike Minogue caused particular concern to the leadership, threatening National's thin majority in parliament. When, in 1984, Marilyn Waring refused to support Muldoon's policies on nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed ships, Muldoon called a snap election. Muldoon made the television announcement of this election while visibly inebriated, and some believe that he later regretted the decision to "go to the country". National resoundingly lost the election to Labour's David Lange.

Shortly after this loss, the Party removed Muldoon from the leadership. Jim McLay, who had replaced Brian Talboys as deputy leader shortly before the election, became the new leader. McLay, however, failed to restore the party's fortunes, in partly because a bitter Muldoon undermined McLay's position. In 1986, Jim Bolger took over the leadership.

In the 1990 elections, National defeated Labour and formed a new government under Bolger. However, the party lost support when it continued the economic reforms which had damaged the previous Labour government - these policies, started by Labour Party Finance Minister Roger Douglas and popularly known as Rogernomics, centred on the privatization of state assets and on the removal of tariffs and subsidies. These policies alienated traditional Labour supporters, who saw them as a betrayal of the party's left-wing character, but did not entirely appease the right-wing National party either. Many more conservative National supporters preferred Muldoon's more authoritarian and interventionist policies over the free market liberalism promoted by Douglas. However, the new National Party Finance Minister, Ruth Richardson, strongly supported Rogernomics, actually believing that Douglas had not gone far enough. (See Ruthanasia.) Her policies encouraged two National MPs to leave the National Party and form the New Zealand Liberal Party (1992).

Nevertheless, National retained office in 1993, due partly to a strongly recovering economy. At the same time as the 1993 election, however, a referendum took place which established the MMP electoral system for future use. This would have a significant impact on New Zealand politics. Some National Party MPs defected to a new grouping, United New Zealand in mid-1995. And as a result of the new electoral mechanics, the New Zealand First Party, led by former National MP and former Cabinet minister Winston Peters, held the balance of power after the 1996 elections. After a prolonged period of negotiation, in which New Zealand First played National and Labour off against each other (both parties negotiated complete coalition agreements), New Zealand First entered into a coalition with National.

Under the coalition agreement, Peters became Deputy Prime Minister, and had the post of Treasurer especially created for him. New Zealand First extracted a number of other concessions from National in exchange for its support. The influence of New Zealand First angered many National MPs, particularly Jenny Shipley. When, in 1997, Shipley toppled Bolger to become leader, relations between National and its coalition partner deteriorated. After Shipley sacked Peters from Cabinet in 1998, the New Zealand First party split into two groups - half the MPs followed Peters out of the coalition, but the remainder broke away, establishing themselves as independents or as members of new parties. From the latter group National gained enough support to continue in government.

In 1999, however, National lost the election to Labour's Helen Clark and the Alliance's Jim Anderton formed a coalition government. Shipley continued to lead the National Party until 2001, when Bill English replaced her. English, however, proved unable to gain traction against Clark, and National suffered its worst-ever electoral defeat in the 2002 elections. Many hoped that English would succeed in rebuilding the party, given time, but a year later polling showed the party performing only slightly better than in the election. In October 2003, English gave way as leader to Don Brash, a former governor of the Reserve Bank who joined the National Parliamentary caucus as a result of the 2002 election. The leadership change brought more positive poll results for the National Party, although a dispute in which English-supporter Nick Smith lost the deputy-leadership to Gerry Brownlee may have had an impact on the party's performance.

At the start of 2004 the National Party launched a concentrated attack against the Labour/Progressive coalition government's policy on race relations, claiming that Maori had received preferential treatment. National's stance has unleashed much controversy, attracting both strong praise and strong criticism. National continued to oppose the government's proposals in the foreshore and seabed controversy. From early 2004 National's fortunes in the polls improved markedly, with some polls in July 2004 showing them as well ahead of the Labour Party. In August, however, most major polls showed Labour regaining a lead, which reached 5-15% in early 2005. More recent polls have showed the gap narrowing again, with one poll in early June 2005 showing National slightly in the lead (but within the margin of error).

Parliamentary Leaders

  1. George Forbes (1936)
  2. Adam Hamilton (1936 - 1940)
  3. Sidney Holland (1940 - 1957)
  4. Keith Holyoake (1957 - 1972)
  5. Jack Marshall (1972 - 1974)
  6. Robert Muldoon (1974 - 1984)
  7. Jim McLay (1984 - 1986)
  8. Jim Bolger (1986 - 1997)
  9. Jenny Shipley (1997 - 2001)
  10. Bill English (2001 - 2003)
  11. Don Brash (2003 - )

Of these leaders, seven have served as Prime Minister. Four have not: Hamilton, McLay, English, and Brash. (Note that George Forbes's term as Prime Minister occurred before, not during, his leadership of the National Party - Sidney Holland led the first National Party government.)

Party Presidents

See also

External link

Template:New Zealand political parties


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