The Origins of the Labour Party are in 1916, when a number of socialist groups formally joined together in response to the Waihi Miners Strike. In the beginning, its aims were centered around redistribution of wealth, nationalisation of industry and the abolition of conscription. Under its first leader, Harry Holland, the Labour Party achieved little electoral success, until Holland's replacement by Michael Joseph Savage in 1933. Under Savage's leadership, and the effects of the Great Depression, the Labour Party won the 1935 elections by a landslide. No longer just a small party, they were now the main left-wing party to counter the right-wing National.


From the mid-70's onward, New Zealands growth slowed to a crawl, inflation and unemployment soared and the profitability of businesses fell. The National Party, who were then in government did nothing to stop this, and lost the 1984 elections to David Lange's Labour Party. However, the Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas, abandoning the left-wing ideas, introduced the policy of 'Rogernomics', a series of state-asset sales and free-market reforms. In total, the government sold off $2.5 billion of state assets, cut the top tax rates from 66% to 33% and company tax rates similarly, limited the right to strike, slashed welfare benefits and abolished the dole for under-18s. Far from reversing the changes, unemployment doubled to 16%. Not surprisingly, Labour's lost many of its votes from workers and lost the 1990 election by a landslide to National.

Helen Clark's Labour Party

In 1993, Helen Clark gained leadership of the Labour Party. She rejected the idea of Rogernomics, and instead moved back to the move traditional Labour - helping the common man (and woman). She saw her party to victory in the 1999 elections, and re-election in the 2002 ones. However in her second term, she, like many leaders before her, moved away from the left, and introduced a number of controversial things: lifting the moratium on Genetically Modified Food (despite protests from the public), legalising prostitution (despite protests from the church), increasing the number of weeks of paid leave to four (despite protests from business), drafting legislation which would put the seabed and foreshore in Crown Ownership (resulting in protests from Maori Activists), then to appease the activists, drafting legislation concerning vesting the seabed and foreshore in the public domain (the meaning of public domain, and how it is distinct from crown ownership, was unclear, leading to confusion between even Labour Party Members), then reverting back to the original plan of Crown Ownership (with more protests from Maori Activists), and increasing police coverage (not in the good 'crime-fighting' way, but in the 'three guys standing around hold a speed camera on an undangerous strech of road' kind of way).

One by one, the Labour Party offended many groups, although the people accepted this because there was no other party to go to. The National Party, traditionally the other main party representing the right-wing, was only at 5% due to Bill English being a useless leader (who actually reminds me a bit of George W. Bush, but I digress) and many embarrasing cases of 'foot-in-mouth', even the so-called smaller parties (NZ First, United Future, the Greens) were rated higher. But then English was usurped (well he was voted out, but you know the saying), and one fateful day at Orewa, the new leader Don Brash gave his nationhood speech, saying there should be no special privileges for Maori, and within a few weeks, National's weak 5% had grown to a massive 35%, and for a while overtook Labour.

This obviously surprised Helen Clark and her colleages, and for good reason - for the first time in 7 years, they had a credible challenge to their rule.

To try to combat their falling rating, Labour started to change its direction. It began 'an investigation into the Treaty of Waitangi' and whether Maori do in fact get special privileges over Pakeha (it is ironic that it is never special privileges over Asians, despite them soon to become a larger part of the population the Maori, but I digress). These measures worked somewhat - for a while Labour was even equal with National.

With the election coming up in August (by memory), it is still unknown whether Labour would continue into a third term, but all other parties (bar ACT) have indicated that they would rather have Labour as government than National, which would make for an odd coalition: The Greens (very left), Labour (centre-left), United Future (centre) and New Zealand First (neither left, right or centre). It is bound to be a close election. Leaders of the Labour Party

Harry Holland (1916 - 1933)
Michael Joseph Savage (1933 - 1940)
Peter Fraser (1940 - 1951)
Arnold Nordmeyer (1962 - 1965)
Norman Kirk (1965 - 1974)
Bill Rowling (1974 - 1983)
David Lange (1983 - 1989)
Geoffrey Palmer (1989 - 1990)
Mike Moore (1990 - 1993)
Helen Clark (1993 - )

New Zealand Labour Party Encyclopedia -
Socialism in New Zealand -