ⓘ New Zealand National Party


ⓘ New Zealand National Party

The New Zealand National Party, shortened to National or the Nats, is a centre-right political party in New Zealand. It is one of two major parties that dominate contemporary New Zealand politics, alongside its traditional rival, the New Zealand Labour Party.

National was formed in 1936 through amalgamation of conservative and liberal parties, Reform and United respectively, and is New Zealands second-oldest extant political party. Nationals predecessors had previously formed a coalition against the growing labour movement. National governed for five periods during the 20th and 21st centuries, and has spent more time in government than any other party.

After the 1949 general election, Sidney Holland became the first prime minister from the National Party, and remained in office until 1957. He was succeeded by Keith Holyoake, who was soon defeated at a general election by the Labour Party in 1957. Holyoake was in office for a second period from 1960 to 1972. The partys platform shifted from moderate economic liberalism to increased emphasis on state interventionism during Robert Muldoons National government from 1975 to 1984. In 1990, Jim Bolger formed another National government, which continued the radical free-market reforms initiated by the preceding Labour government. The party has since advocated free enterprise, reduction of taxes and limited state regulation. Following the first MMP election in 1996, the National Party governed in a coalition with the populist New Zealand First. National Party leader Jenny Shipley became New Zealands first female prime minister in 1997; her government was defeated by a Labour-led coalition in 1999.

The National Party was most recently in government from 2008 to 2017 under John Key and Bill English; it governed with support from the centrist United Future, the classical-liberal ACT Party and the indigenous-rights-based Māori Party. At the 2017 general election, the party gained 44.4 percent of the party vote and won 56 seats, making it the largest caucus in the House of Representatives. National was unable to form a government following the election and is currently the Official Opposition. Simon Bridges has been the leader of the National Party and leader of the Opposition since 27 February 2018.


1.1. History Formation

The National Party was formed in May 1936, but its roots go considerably further back. The party came about as the result of a merger between the United Party known as the Liberal Party until 1927, except for a short period between 1925 and 1927 when it used the name "National Party" 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, who then formed a substantial proportion of the population.

Historically, the Liberal and Reform parties had competed against each other, but from 1931 until 1935 a United–Reform Coalition 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 grouping intended to represent New Zealanders from all backgrounds in contrast to the previous situation, where United served city-dwellers and Reform served farmers. However, because of the effects of the Great Depression and a perception that the existing coalition government had handled the situation poorly, the National Political Federation lost heavily in 1935 to the Labour Party, the rise of which had prompted the alliance. The two parties were cut down to 19 seats between them. Another factor was a third party, the Democrat Party formed by Albert Davy, a former organiser for the coalition who disapproved of the "socialist" measures that the coalition had introduced. The new party split the conservative vote and aided Labours victory.

In hopes of countering Labours rise, United and Reform decided to turn their alliance into a single party. This party, the New Zealand National Party, was formed at a meeting held in Wellington on 13 and 14 May 1936. Erstwhile members of the United and Reform parties made up the bulk of the new party. The United Partys last leader, George Forbes, Prime Minister from 1930 until 1935, opened the conference; he served as Leader of the Opposition from May until November, when former Reform MP Adam Hamilton was elected the first leader. Hamilton led the party into its first election in 1938. He got the top job primarily because of a compromise between Forbes and Reform leader Gordon Coates, neither of whom wished to serve under the other. Hamilton, however, failed to counter Labours popular Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage effectively. Because of this, perceptions that he remained too much under the control of Coates and because he lacked real support from his party colleagues, Hamilton failed to prevent Labours re-election in 1938. In 1940 Sidney Holland replaced Hamilton. William Polson "acted effectively as Hollands deputy". One former Reform MP Bert Kyle resigned in 1942 in protest at the "autocratic" behaviour of Holland and the new party organisation.

In the 1943 election Labours majority was reduced, but it remained in power. In the 1946 election, National also failed to unseat Labour. However, in the 1949 election, thirteen years after the partys foundation, National finally won power, and Holland became Prime Minister.


1.2. History First Government 1949–1957

In 1949 National had campaigned on "the private ownership of production, distribution and exchange". Once in power the new Holland Government proved decidedly administratively conservative, retaining, for instance, the welfare state set up by the previous Labour Government; though National gained, and has largely kept, a reputation for showing more favour to farmers and to business than did the Labour Party.

In 1951 the Waterfront Dispute broke out, lasting 151 days. The National government stepped into the conflict, acting in opposition to the maritime unions. Holland also used this opportunity to call the 1951 snap election. Campaigning on an anti-Communist platform and exploiting the Labour Oppositions apparent indecisiveness, National returned with an increased majority, gaining 54 parliamentary seats out of 80.

In the 1954 election, National was elected to a third term, though losing some of its seats. 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 partys long-standing deputy leader, took Hollands place. Holyoake, however, had insufficient time to establish himself in the public mind as Prime Minister, and lost in the election later that year to Labour, then led by Walter Nash.


1.3. History Second Government 1960–1972

Nashs government became very unpopular as Labour acquired a reputation for poor economic management, and much of the public saw its 1958 Budget, known since as the "Black Budget", as miserly. After only one term in office, Labour suffered defeat at the hands of Holyoake and the National Party in the elections of 1960.

Holyoakes government lasted twelve years, the party gaining re-election three times in 1963, 1966, and 1969. However, this period Social Credit arose, which broke the National/Labour duopoly in parliament, winning former National seats from 1966. Holyoake retired from the premiership and from the party leadership at the beginning of 1972, and his deputy, Jack Marshall, replaced him.

Marshall suffered the same fate as Holyoake. Having succeeded an experienced leader in an election-year, he failed to establish himself in time. Marshall had an added disadvantage; he had to compete against the much more popular and charismatic Norman Kirk, then leader of the Labour Party, and lost the ensuing election. Unpopular policies, including initiating clear felling of parts of the Warawara kauri forest, also needlessly alienated voters.


1.4. History Third National Government 1975–1984

Within two years the National Party removed Marshall as its parliamentary leader and replaced him with Robert Muldoon, who had previously served as Minister of Finance. An intense contest between Kirk and Muldoon followed. Kirk became ill and died in office 1974; his successor, Bill Rowling, proved no match for Muldoon, and in the 1975 election, National under Muldoon returned comfortably to power.

The Muldoon administration, which favoured interventionist economic policies, arouses mixed opinions amongst the free-market adherents of the modern National. Bill Birchs "Think Big" initiatives, designed to invest public money in energy self-sufficiency, stand in contrast to the partys contemporary views. Muldoons autocratic leadership style became increasingly unpopular with both the public and the party, and together with disgruntlement over economic policy led to an attempted leadership change in 1980. Led by ministers Derek Quigley, Jim McLay, and Jim Bolger, the challenge dubbed the "colonels coup" 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.

Under Muldoon, National won three consecutive general elections in 1975, 1978 and 1981. However, public dissatisfaction grew, and Muldoons controlling and belligerent style of leadership became less and less appealing. In both the 1978 and 1981 elections, National gained fewer votes than the Labour opposition, but could command a small majority in Parliament because of the then-used First Past the Post electoral system.

Dissent within the National Party continued to grow, however, with rebel National MPs Marilyn Waring and Mike Minogue causing particular concern to the leadership, threatening Nationals thin majority in parliament. When, in 1984, Marilyn Waring refused to support Muldoons policies on visits by 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 lost the election to Labour under David Lange.


1.5. History Fourth Government 1990–1999

Shortly after this loss, the National 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, an urban liberal with right-wing views on economics, however, failed to restore the partys fortunes. In 1986 Jim Bolger took over the leadership with the support of centrists within the party.

In the 1990 election National defeated Labour in an electoral landslide and formed a new government under Jim Bolger. However, the party lost some support from Muldoon era policy based conservatives when it continued the economic reforms which had ultimately led to the defeat of the previous Labour government - these policies, started by Labour Party Finance Minister Roger Douglas and popularly known as Rogernomics, centred on the privatisation 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 partys social service based character, but did not appear to appease the membership base of the non-parliamentary party either, which still had a significant supporter base for the statist intervention style policies of the Muldoon Government.

Many more conservative and centrist National supporters preferred Muldoons 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, believing that Douglas had not gone far enough. Her policies - dubbed "Ruthanasia" - encouraged two MPs to leave the National Party and form the New Zealand Liberal Party 1992. Richardsons views also met with considerable opposition within the National Party Parliamentary Caucus and for a time caused damage to the partys membership base.

At the 1993 election, National was narrowly able to retain government owing partly to a slight economic recovery and the opposition being split between three competing parties. Nationals unprecedented eighteen-seat majority had virtually disappeared and the country faced an election night hung parliament for the first time since 1931, with National one seat short of the required 50 seats to govern. Final special votes counted over the following days revealed National had won Waitaki, allowing it to form a government with the majority of one seat but required the election of a Speaker from the opposition benches Peter Tapsell of the Labour Party to hold a working majority in the House. At the same time as the election, however, a referendum took place which established the MMP electoral system for future use in New Zealand general elections as widespread dissatisfaction with the existing political system led to reform. 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 whilst other splinter parties emerged. 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 election. After a prolonged period of negotiation lasting nearly two months, 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 despite the fact many expected Peters to form such a coalition with Labour.

Under the coalition agreement, Peters became Deputy Prime Minister and had the post of Treasurer especially created by the Crown 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 Nationals new leader, relations between National and its coalition partner quickly deteriorated. After Shipley sacked Peters from Cabinet in 1998, New Zealand First split into two groups and half the MPs followed Peters out of the coalition but the remainder broke away, establishing themselves as independents or as members of new parties of which none survived the 1999 election. From the latter group National gained enough support to continue in government with additional confidence support of Alamein Kopu a defect Alliance List MP. The visibly damaged National Government managed to survive the parliamentary term, but lost the election to Labours Helen Clark and the Alliances Jim Anderton, who formed a coalition government leaving National in the political wilderness for nine years.


1.6. History Opposition 1999–2008

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 election, gaining only 27 of 120 seats. 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 had joined the National Parliamentary caucus in the 2002 election.

Under Brash, the National Partys overall popularity with voters improved markedly. Mostly, however, the party achieved this by "reclaiming" support from electors who voted for other centre-right parties in 2002. Nationals campaigning on race relations, amid claims of preferential treatment of Māori, and amid their opposition to Labour Party policy during the foreshore-and-seabed controversy, generated considerable publicity and much controversy. Strong campaigning on a tax-cuts theme in the lead-up to the 2005 election, together with a consolidation of centre-right support, may have contributed to the National Partys winning 48 out of 121 seats in Parliament. National, however, remained the second-largest party in Parliament marginally behind Labour, which gained 50 seats, and had fewer options for forming a coalition government. With the formation of a new Labour-dominated Government, National remained the major Opposition party. Before the leadership of John Key, the National Party had made renewed efforts to attract social conservative voters, through adoption of anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage policies.

In the 2005 general election run up, it was revealed that the Exclusive Brethren had distributed attack pamphlets critical of the Labour party and praising of National to letterboxes throughout New Zealand. Labour insisted that National had close ties to and prior knowledge of these attacks, which was repeatedly denied by National. It was later admitted by the leader Don Brash that he indeed did have knowledge of the plan, a statement that was contradicted by MP Gerry Brownlee who subsequently denied the National party had any foreknowledge.

After the 2005 election defeat Don Brashs leadership of National came under scrutiny from the media, and political watchers speculated on the prospect of a leadership-challenge before the next general election due in 2008. Don Brash resigned on 23 November 2006, immediately before the release of Nicky Hagers book The Hollow Men, which contained damaging revelations obtained from private emails. John Key became the leader of the National caucus on 27 November 2006. Key fostered a more "centrist" image, discussing issues such as child poverty.


1.7. History Fifth Government 2008–2017

On 8 November 2008 the National Party won 58 seats in the general election. The Labour Party, which had spent three terms in power, conceded the election and Prime Minister Helen Clark stepped down. National formed a minority government under John Key with confidence-and-supply support from the ACT Party 5 seats, the Māori Party 5 seats and United Future 1 seat. On 19 November the Governor-General swore in the new National-led government. In Keys first Cabinet he gave the ACT Partys Rodney Hide and Heather Roy ministerial portfolios outside Cabinet, and the Māori Partys Tāriana Turia and Pita Sharples the same. United Future leader Peter Dunne retained his ministerial post outside Cabinet which he had held within the immediately preceding Labour Government.

National came to power in the continuing wake of a financial crisis. In response to New Zealands rising debt, Finance Minister Bill English made budget deficit-reduction his main priority for the first term. The government also cut taxes on all income; the top personal tax rate was lowered from 39% to 38% and then 33% in 2010.

At the 26 November 2011 general election, National gained 47.31% of the party vote, the highest percentage gained by any political party since MMP was introduced, helped by a lower voter turnout and the misfortunes of its traditional support parties. A reduced wasted vote enabled the party to gain 59 seats in Parliament, one more than in 2008. National re-entered confidence-and-supply agreements with ACT one seat and United Future one seat on 5 December 2011, enabling it to form a minority government with the support of 61 seats in the new 121-seat Parliament. National also re-entered a confidence-and-supply agreement with the Māori Party on 11 December 2011 for extra insurance, despite the parties differing on Nationals contentious plans to partially sell or "extend the mixed ownership model to" four state-owned enterprises. This nearly led to a cancellation of the agreement in February 2012 over Treaty of Waitangi obligations for the mixed ownership companies, and again in July 2012 over water rights.

The government introduced the "mixed ownership model" plan, in which the Government planned to reduce its share in Genesis Energy, Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power and Solid Energy from 100% to 51% and Air New Zealand from 74% to 51%, and sell off the remainder. The plans to sell down Solid Energy were later axed due to the companys poor financial position. A citizens-initiated referendum on the sell-downs returned a 67.3% vote in opposition on a turnout of 45.1%.

The National Government won a third term at the 2014 general election. The National Party won 47.04% of the party vote, and increased its seats to 60. National resumed its confidence and supply agreements with ACT and United Future. The National government extended free general practitioner visits to children under 13 as part of their 2014 election package, as well as extending paid parental leave by two weeks to 16 weeks. The National parliamentary caucus was split on the issue of same-sex marriage in 2014.

Throughout his second and third terms, Key campaigned heavily in favour of free-trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

After serving Prime Minister for eight years, Key announced his resignation as the party leader on 5 December 2016. He stepped down as Prime Minister on 12 December. Keys deputy Bill English was acclaimed as the partys new leader on 12 December 2016 after Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Minister of Police Judith Collins withdrew from the leadership election.


1.8. History Opposition 2017–present

In the 2017 general election, Nationals share of the party vote dropped to 44.4%. It lost four seats, dropping to 56, but remained the largest party in Parliament. Two of the National governments three support parties lost representation in parliament. New Zealand First, led by Winston Peters, held the balance of power, and formed a coalition with Labour, who also gained Green Party support, marking an end to the 9-year National government. English announced his intention to stay on as party leader until the 2020 general election but subsequently resigned. On 27 February 2018, English was succeeded by Simon Bridges.


2. Ideology and factions

The New Zealand National Party has been characterised as a broad church, encompassing both conservative and liberal tendencies, and outlying populist and libertarian tendencies. All factions tend to be in tension, although the conservative tendency frequently prevails. The broad liberal tendency is expressed by both social liberals and the classical liberals, with the latter supporting economic liberalism. The early National Party was united in its anti-socialism, in opposition to the Labour Party.

The partys principles, last revised in 2003, include "loyalty to our country, its democratic principles and our Sovereign as Head of State; national and personal security; equal citizenship and equal opportunity; individual freedom and choice; personal responsibility; competitive enterprise and rewards for achievement; limited government; strong families and caring communities; sustainable development of our environment." National supports a limited welfare state but says that work, merit, innovation and personal initiative must be encouraged to reduce unemployment and boost economic growth. In a 1959 speech, party leader and Prime Minister Keith Holyoake encapsulated the conservative and liberal principles of the National Party:

We believe in the maximum degree of personal freedom and the maximum degree of individual choice for our people. We believe in the least interference necessary with individual rights, and the least possible degree of state interference.

Historically National supported a higher degree of state intervention than it has in recent decades. The First, Second and Third National governments 1950s–1980s generally sought to preserve the economic and social stability of New Zealand, mainly keeping intact the high degree of protectionism and the strong welfare state built up by the First Labour Government. The last major interventionist policy was Prime Minister Robert Muldoons massive infrastructure projects designed to ensure New Zealands energy independence after the 1973 oil shock, Think Big. In contrast, the Fourth National Government 1990–1999 mostly carried on the sweeping free-market reforms of the Fourth Labour Government known as Rogernomics after Labours finance minister Sir Roger Douglas. The corporatisation and sale of numerous state-owned enterprises, the abolishment of collective bargaining and major government spending cuts were introduced under the Fourth National Government, policies that were popularly known as Ruthanasia Nationals finance minister at the time was Ruth Richardson. The Fifth National Government 2008–2017 took a relatively centrist position.


3. Organisation

National features both regional and electorate-level organisational structures. National traditionally had a strongly decentralised organisation, designed to allow electorates and the five regions to appeal to the unique voter base in their area. However, in light of the 2002 election result, in which the party suffered a significant loss of its support base, a review of the party organisation resulted in decisions to weaken the regional structure and to implement a more centralised structure. The restructuring was ostensibly planned to make the party organisation more "appropriate" for the mixed member proportional electoral system.

Currently, the affairs of the party are centrally governed by a Board of Directors, comprising the party leader, one caucus representative, the partys general manager and seven elected members. The board elects a Party President from within its members. An Annual Conference determines party policy, and elects members to the Board of Directors. The party is subdivided into Electorate Committees; each committee sends six delegates to Annual Conference, including a chair and any MPs from within the electorate.

The Leader of the National Party currently Simon Bridges, elected by the partys current sitting MPs, acts as a spokesperson for National and is responsible for managing the partys business within parliament. The President currently Peter Goodfellow heads the administration outside of parliament.

Within National there are a number of organised groups of members, called Special Interest Groups, that share a particular belief, interest or cause. Other groups are also involved in the partys policy reviews. For instance, the Bluegreens are a group within National who help formulate environmental policy. The partys youth wing, the Young Nationals commonly known as the Young Nats, has provided much political impetus as a ginger group. Often the more open minded and liberal views of the Young Nats have been at odds with those in the senior party.

National is affiliated to - and plays a leading part in - the International Democrat Union IDU and the Asia Pacific Democrat Union APDU. Former National Prime Minister John Key was the chairman of the IDU from 2014 to 2018.


4. Antisemitism

In an August, 2019 poll conducted by Curia, supporters of the party were found to be more likely than supporters of any other polled party, to believe that the Holocaust was "a myth or exaggerated".

Following the Christchurch Mosque shootings, the party hurriedly removed content from their website which indicated opposition to the UN Migration Compact; a position also espoused by the terrorist in his manifesto.


5. Leadership

Party leaders since 1936

Key: National Labour PM: Prime Minister LO: Leader of the Opposition

Living former party leaders

As of May 2018, there are six living former party leaders, as seen below.

  • Living former Leaders of the National Party

Party presidents

Short biographies of all presidents up to Sue Wood appear in Barry Gustafsons The First Fifty Years.

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