|Description||New Zealand First is a political party in New Zealand. Commentators dispute the appropriate classification of the party on the political spectrum, but most voters would probably associate it with its controversial campaigns against immigration. |
Winston Peters, the founder of the Party, also acts as its leader as of 2004. His contribution to the party figures very significantly, and many people do not believe that New Zealand First would survive without him.
In the election campaign of 2002, New Zealand First focused on three primary policies:
bringing crime under control and increasing judicial sentences
reducing payments related to the settlements process for the Treaty of Waitangi.
Some see the party as opportunist, pursuing whichever issues it can gain votes from. Others see it as a champion of ordinary New Zealanders.
The Party espouses a mixture of economic policies. It opposes the privatisation of state assets (particularly to overseas buyers), which might align it with views generally found on the left of New Zealand politics. On the other hand, it favours reducing taxation (a policy typical of the New Zealand right.
The policies of New Zealand First generally mirror the views of Winston Peters.
New Zealand First was emerged as a political grouping in 1993, shortly before the 1993 general elections. Winston Peters, the party's founder, had recently won the seat of Tauranga as an independent, having left the National Party after disputes with its leadership.
In the 1993 elections, Winston Peters retained his Tauranga seat. Tau Henare, another New Zealand First candidate, won the Northern Maori seat, giving the party a total of two MPs.
With the switch to the MMP electoral system for the 1996 elections, smaller parties could gain a share of seats proportional to their share of the vote. This enabled New Zealand First to gain seventeen seats (having obtained just over 13% of the vote). The election result put New Zealand First into a position of power - neither of the two major parties (National and Labour) had sufficient strength to form a government, and either would need New Zealand First's support.
New Zealand First entered into a long period of negotiations with both the Labour party and the National Party. Before the election, most people (including many New Zealand First voters) had expected Peters to enter into coalition with Labour, and therefore expressed surprise when he chose National. The most common explanation for this decision involved National's willingness to accept New Zealand First's demands (or Labour's refusal to). However, Michael Laws (a former MP who served as a New Zealand First campaign manager) claims that Peters had secretly made his decision significantly before this time, and that he merely used negotiations with Labour to encourage more incentives from National.
New Zealand First gained considerable concessions from National in exchange for this deal. Winston Peters would serve as Deputy Prime Minister, and would also hold the specially-created office of Treasurer (senior to the Minister of Finance). The National Party also made considerable concessions on policy.
Initially, New Zealand First had a relatively smooth coalition relationship with National. Despite initial concerns about the ability of Peters to work with National leader Jim Bolger, who had sacked Peters from a former National cabinet, the two did not have major problems.
New Zealand First had graver concerns about the behaviour of some of its MPs, whom opponents accused of incompetence and extravagant spending. Many people came to the conclusion that the party's minor MPs had come into parliament merely to provide votes for Winston Peters, and would not make any real contributions themselves.
Gradually, however, the coalition tensions became more significant than problems of party discipline. This became increasingly the case after Jenny Shipley, a National Party politician, gained enough support to force Jim Bolger's resignation, and subsequently succeeded him as Prime Minister. The tensions between the two parties also rose as New Zealand First adopted a more aggressive approach to promoting its policies (including those that National was not prepared to implement). This new attitude probably fed off New Zealand First's poor performance in opinion polls, which (to Peters) indicated that the party's success rested on its confrontational style. Many commentators believe that Peters performs better in Opposition than in Government.
On 14 August 1998, Shipley sacked Winston Peters from his Cabinet positions. This occurred after an ongoing dispute about a relatively minor matter (the sale of the government's stake in Wellington International Airport). The issue itself appeared merely the outward manifestation of much deeper disagreement.
With the sacking of Peters, New Zealand First opted to leave its coalition with National. Many of the party's MPs, unwilling to follow Peters out of government, left New Zealand First. These MPs either tried to start their own parties (such as Mauri Pacific) or to establish themselves as independents. Many of these MPs had previously come under public scrutiny for their behaviour, and none gained re-election. Until the election of 1999, however, they provided National with enough support to continue on without New Zealand First.
In the 1999 elections, New Zealand First gained only 4% of the vote, and would not have qualified for proportional representation under MMP had Winston Peters not retained his electorate. Peters held his Tauranga seat by a mere 63 votes). New Zealand First remained outside of government.
By the election of 2002, however, the party had rebuilt much of its support. This occurred largely due to Peters' three-point campaign against immigration, Treaty costs, and crime. The party won 10% of the vote - a considerable improvement on its last performance (although still not as good as its performance in 1996), and New Zealand First gained thirteen seats in parliament. Winston Peters' campaign phrase "can we fix it? yes we can" gained much media attention, as the same line appears in theme music for the children's television programme Bob The Builder.
It appears that New Zealand First had hopedto play in 2002 a similar role to the one it had in 1996, where it was able to give power to either Labour or National depending on which offered the best deal. However, National's vote had collapsed to the extent that it could not form a government even with New Zealand First's support, depriving the party of its negotiating advantage. In the end, however, this proved irrelevant, as Labour refused to consider an alliance with New Zealand First in any case. Instead, Labour relied on support from the newly-significant United Future party. Peters appeared angry over this.
After the 2002 election, New Zealand First continued to promote its policies strongly. In light of National's decreased strength, New Zealand First attempted to gain more prominence in Opposition, frequently attacking the Labour Coalition government on a wide range of issues. Speculation has occurred on efforts to create a more united front linking New Zealand First, National, and ACT, but Peters has rejected this scenario, saying that the New Zealand voter will decide what alliances are necessary. Unlike ACT, which pursues the role of the natural right-wing coalition partner to National, New Zealand First increasingly aims to replace the National party entirely.