Copied from The Alliance Alternative in Australia edited by Robert Leach

The New Zealand Alliance; the power of diversity

by Penelope Whitney

The Alliance - an electoral coalition of green, red and brown politics - has changed New Zealand's former two-party sys- tem and its mutual New Right emphasis on monetarist eco- nomics. Since it was founded in late 1991, the Alliance has reintroduced the concept of government intervention in the economy to provide full employment, state-funded housing, and free health care and education. International economists and political experts have hailed it as the emerging force of the left, and as the most stable political formation under the new electoral system of mixed-member proportional representation (MMP).

As right-wing policies become the trend around the globe, the Alliance has pushed the political balance in this small country back towards the centre. How did this happen? What does it bode for the future and for political alliances in other countries? What can other progressive groups learn from a country of three million known for no nukes and lots of sheep?

Where it started NZ became a welfare state in 1935 when Labour, then a socialist party, introduced a cradle-to-grave welfare system. Those policies remained largely intact until 1984, when Labour initiated an ideological embrace of the free market. The same party that helped create one of the world's most regulated economics now transformed it into one of the most deregulated. The welfare state was demolished in the name of economic efficiency.

Today, NZ is still reeling from the effects of deregulation. The nation's debt has risen from $22 billion to over $60 billion, yet unemployment continues to increase. A 1993 UNICEF report said: 'Untrammelled markets have not produced vigor- ous growth. On the contrary, eight years of stringent mon- etarist policies have produced massive unemployment, rising crime rates, a widening gap between rich and poor. The deteri- oration in living standards has been particularly severe among families with young children, and NZ now has the highest youth suicide rate among industrialised countries.'

Disillusionment with Labour's political positioning led to a nia@)r split and the formation of New Labour. The significance of New Labour is that it brought thousands of New Zealand- ers - not just experienced electoral campaigners and trade unionists from out of the Labour Party, but also social activists, left-wing academics, and a number of socialists who had never belonged to a mass party - into one consolidation. The New Labour Party (NLP) played a critical role in develop- ing the social democratic policy which later formed the basis of the Alliance agenda.

In 1979 Jim Anderton became Labour Party president, and was largely responsible for its anti-nuclear policy, as well as its 1984 election victory, when he entered parliament. He stood down as president, but was soon leading left-wing opposition to Labour's new economic plan, introduced by Roger Douglas. Through'rogemomics', Labour instituted poli- cies that created mass unemployment. It implemented a flat, regressive tax on goods and services, targeted and slashed benefits, corporatised and later privatised state assets.

'Jim Anderton critiqued Roger Douglas and his cabinet supporters for their economic policies', reported Tom Hyde (Metro, May 1994); 'He asked "What kind of society do we want?" Anderton says that debate never took place. "Roger Douglas decided what he wanted and it was all expressed in economic, not human terms." According to Anderton, Douglas espoused a "lean, mean, competitive environment where the rich can get richer and it'll all trickle down in investment and the poor will be better off. But until then we have to have pain." Anderton became the symbol of resentment against >rogernomics.'

In 1987, Anderton established the Economic Policy' work (EPN). Through mailings from his office, and network meetings before party conferences, the EPN challenged Labour's positioning towards the right and debated alternatives. It defended public ownership, progressive taxation and government intervention in the economy, with a major goal of full employment.

In 1988, many leftists and rank-and-file unionists were aiming to re-elect Anderton as president at the Labour conference in Dunedin. If he won, there were hopes of reclaiming traditional labour values from the right wing. Although he had a majority of trade union support, he had no caucus support, and lost the presidency by a small margin. What was wonc the conference, however, was a list of angry party members keen on a new alternative.

These included rank-and-file activists such as McCarten, president of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union, who had been leading a fight in Auckland Central to oust one of Labour's most anti-union MPs, Richard Prebble. At an EPN conference in 1989, their involvement resulted in a change of name to the Labour Policy Network. At this point according to McCarten, the LPN developed into more than an economic discussion network: 'Factions were outlawed by the Labour Party but that's what the LPN became, for all intents and purposes.'

Later that year, Anderton was suspended from the Labour caucus for refusing to vote for the sale of the government owned Bank of NZ, even though party policy actually opposed asset sales: 'They chose to make an example of me.= The suspension was ruled unconstitutional, and he was readmitted to the caucus on the grounds that he had been punished enough.

Although Anderton says he had believed it was better to change Labour from within rather than walk away, 'after episode I came to the conclusion that there wasn't any chance of reform. The people in it had betrayed the commitments they'd given, and the Labour Party would never be the same again ever'.

jim Anderton was not alone in his sense of betrayal. In Fragments of Labour, Bruce Jesson wrote: 'By early 1989, the party seemed beyond restoration. There was an obvious drift to the right as many activists left in disillusionment, and the party was so unpopular in the polls it seemed beyond any long-term recovery.'Party membership had declined to around 10,000 from 80,000 in 1984. Anderton held a series of meet- ings throughout the country with people in the Labour Party, mainly in the LPN. 'He asked us, do we stay or go?', recalls Matt Robson,.current NLP president. The majority felt they had no option but to leave.

In April 1989, Jim Anderton announced his resignation. A month later, the New Labour Party was formed. Many in the NLP made great personal sacrifices by joining it. Matt McCarten was forced out of his union job. Matt Robson, who walked away from a guaranteed seat in parliament and a Labour district that he and his partner Petronella Townsend had built up over six years, said: 'Sure it was slaughter to go, but we thought it was sure slaughter to stay. If you stayed in, you had no credibility anyway, because you were complicit with what Labour continued to do. It was better to leave and keep your political program alive. There was a feeling at first that we would capture all those people who had left. But those of us who'd been involved in politics a long time realised that the initial flush soon goes. You have to build an organisation, and that's the difficult part.'

Starting over New Labour faced all the difficulties of a new party. Its enthusiastic decision to open its June 1989 conference to all the disaffected NZ left resulted in small left groups going to the microphone and broadcasting their views as the views of all NLP supporters. Public support plunged. On the positive side, Matiu Rata, the founder of Mana Motuhake, a Maori self- determination party, spoke at the conference and endorsed an electoral accommodation between the two parties. (Rata, a former Minister of Maori Affairs, had left the Labour Party in

1979 because he felt it was not addressing critical Maori issues.) Platform points taken from the Economic Policy Net- work became New Labour's program.

After the conference, much of New Labour's time was racked by left infighting. There were a significant number of casualties, largely over ideological battles. Two communist groups were expelled, and there were several public defections, including vice-president Sue Bradford and NLP newspaper editor Chris Trotter. 'We had wanted the NLP to be a red- green party, but it actually was a red party with clip-on green policy', says McCarten, who was elected NLP president. 'A number of green activists became disillusioned and left. The Alliance is our second chance to get the mix right.' '

A year later, the NLP put up candidates in all seats for the 1990 general election. Anderton became the first MP to resign from a party and then to be re-elected. to parliament. Other candidates didn't do so well. They won 5.8% of the vote, which wasn't bad in a first-past-the-post system, but didn't bode well for the future.

During the election, the NLP found themselves alongside a number of parties opposed to both Labour and National policies. Mana Motuhake had been particularly active in the early 1980s, using the Treaty of Waitangi to reclaim traditional Maori land that had been unfairly seized by European settlers, but since then support had fallen away from the party. The Democrats, a monetary reformist party, came out of the Social Credit movement of the 1920s. As late as 1984 they had won two seats in parliament, but lost their hold in 1987 and never recovered.

The newly formed three-month-old Green party was particularly successful. It stood seventy candidates on four principles with no policy. 'We stood on green principles - care for the planet, care for the people,' says Mike Smith, Alliance national co-ordinator, who stood then as a Green candidate. The Greens took 7% of the vote nationwide. 'People were looking for alternatives to National and Labour,' says Smith.

Part of the reason they did so well was 'just standing by the Green name,' says Jeannette Fitzsimmons, a leading Green candidate and current joint deputy leader of the Alliance.

'People were voting for the green principle more than the person standing. You could have put up a green monkey and they would have voted for it.'

Coming together

After a multi-party conference on superannuation called by the National government, the four parties met in Anderton's office in parliament. The talks were very cautious, since none of the parties had a mandate for a coalition.

In fact, there was significant opposition within the parties. 'Some people in party leaderships felt that their policies and principles would be diluted and that an Alliance was oppor- tunist,' says McCarten. 'There were also misgivings by many at the perceived dominance of jim Anderton and the NLP.'How- ever, the momentum was carried by candidates and activists from the 1990 election. 'Most third-party candidates had found they had much in common with each other and very lit- tle with Labour or National,' says Anderton. 'And they kept asking themselves, "Isn't it a pity we're fighting each other when we agree on so much?".'

Although the Greens had electoral support, they had not developed any party organisation or structure, unlike the other three parties. 'We had a philosophy, and a world view holding us together, but we didn't have concrete policies,' says Fitzsimmons. 'And there was the seriousness of the ecological crisis, which we felt the NLP wasn't addressing.'

While the Greens were still debating their position, the NLP, Democrats and Mana Motuhake agreed to back an Alliance candidate for an Auckland Regional Council by- election to be held in November 1991. Panmure was a working- class area that had been a traditional Labour seat since the 1930s, at both the local and national level. Bruce Jesson, a political writer and marxist, was put up against a former Labour deputy prime minister. The Alliance won hands down, but the Greens, who had put up their own candidate, finished fourth. That caused many to change their position and support the Alliance.

The formal cohesion of the Alliance was pushed by a second campaign. In November, a parliamentary by-election was called in Auckland's Tamaki seat to be held in February. The odds were against them; the traditionally conservative seat had been vacated when Prime Minister Muldoon stepped down, and he hand-picked a candidate. In order to stand with the Alliance, the Greens were forced to make a decision and, in the end, practicality won out. 'It was an opportunity we could grasp,' says Fitzsimmons. 'The Greens needed policy and organizing skills. 1 argued that yes, there are major differences, but we're talking about wanting to implement the green agenda. If we can't win the hearts and minds of our allies, then how will we capture the rest of the country as a whole?'

On 1 December 1991, the four parties met in Auckland at the Awatea Marae, where they signed the Alliance Dec- laration, which states in part: 'total commitment to the advancement of NZ and its people and the need to rebuild and re-establish a society where human worth, dignity and respect for each other becomes the norm, irrespective of race, colour, creed, age, gender or sexual orientation, where co-oper- ation and diversity is freely acknowledged... That we commit ourselves to forming, if elected, an Alliance government whose objective will be the social, economic and environmental reconstruction of NZ.'

The Liberal Party, a small breakaway from the ruling National Party, attended as observers and later joined the Alliance. Throughout the talks, the media questioned the con- cept of an Alliance. 'In normal times, it would be preposterous in any case to see such a motley group of eccentrics and ideal- ists as a credible alternative Government,' reported Simon Collins (NZ Herald, 2.11.91). 'However... in terms of both pol- icy and credibility, the 56-year-old duopoly of Labour and National has been weakened, perhaps fatally.'

The Alliance showed its strength in the by-election. 'For the first time, people were considering the impact an Alliance could have,' says McCarten, who played a leading role as campaign director and strategist. It came within 1,200 votes of taking the seat from National, and pushed Labour to a distant third. Later in 1992, the Alliance took effective control of regional government in Auckland, NZ's largest city. Its successful anti-privatisation campaign which won 42% of the regional vote and eighty elected officials.

Consensus and power-sharing

With Tamaki behind them, the Alliance had to return to the drawing table to thrash out internal policy and power-sharing, as well as decide on policies for upeoming national elections. Although the parties shared values on major issues, many points of difference remained. Simon Collins (NZH, 12.2.91) gave this assessment: 'The Democrats, for example, oppose higher income tax on the rich, and the Democrats and Greens are b6th wary of New Labour's support for state-backed industrial awards. The Greens insist they are not against eco- nomic growth as such, only opposed to growth based on pol- lution and use of nonrenewable resources. But their attitude irks those in the other parties whose first concern is jobs.'

In order for each distinct party to share power, the Alliance required a unique method of decision making. Both the Greens and Mana Motuhake feared they would be over- shadowed by the NLP's organisational background and num- bers. 'But the Democrats weren't feared the same way,' says their leader John Wright. 'So they'd come to us and tell us their fears and we'd go to the NLP and say "Hey, tone this down a bit." It was a diplomatic shuffle at times.' Still, the Alliance wouldn't have lasted without a definite structure.

One element which the Greens had developed as a new party, and insisted on within the Alliance, was the process of consensus. Mana Motuhake also claims it as part of its Maori culture. 'For me it's not new, it's very much a Maori political way of reaching decisions,' says Sandra Lee. 'I always say to Pakeha, when it comes to consultations the slow way is the quick way, and the quick way is the slow way.'

However, those from the NLP and Democrats were scep- tical at first. 'I came from a hierarchical tradition of politics where if you had the numbers you didn't worry about dis- cussion. Why waste time!' says Anderton. But he now says the consensus process has become essential to power-sharing within the Alliance. If there is a disagreement, parties try to win the argument by debate. 'That brings a discipline to policy making which I've never seen in any other political forum,' McCarten says. 'Everyone must do their homework, not only if you're advocating the position, but if you're opposing it, so it's no good just to say we vote against it. 'You must put up the reasons why, and that comes under scrutiny by all members of all the parties. It serves as an education exercise for everyone because once they know it's passed, they know they're accountable to it.'

In the early days of the Alliance, some of the fiercest debates between the parties centred on economic issues. According to McCarten, 'the Greens would take a position of decentralisation, a smaller, sustainable approach, whereas the 1reds' favoured a strong state that combined resources. The Greens would say the red position was a very conservative, orthodox position, and recommend locally-based economics. That's been a very enlightening debate. The left has had to argue its case to win people to it, and the Greens also had to do the same. You couldn't just get by with rhetoric, you had to deal with real facts and figures. As a result there really is a red-green melding of ideas, and a red-green position on the role of the state and the economy.'

As the Alliance grows, its leaders are adamant that consensus will stay. Anderton explains: 'I think it's one of the reasons the Alliance is much more robust as an organisation than the commentators think. The decisions that are made stick because everyone's been a part of it.' Sandra Lee agrees: 'We have people, particularly in the NLP, who have walked away like Matiu Rata did from potential political power for principles. These people have given up too much already to live through another betrayal. The way we ensure that is through consensus-making rather than decisions that even- tually erode the philosophy being made in a unilateral way.'

The supreme decision-making body of the Alliance is its national council. It is made up of four representatives from each party, plus the leader (Jim Anderton), two deputy leaders Jjeannette Fitzsimmons and Sandra Lee), director (Matt McCarten) and co-ordinator (Mike Smith). The council is the final arbitrator where there is conflict that cannot be resolved on earlier levels; it receives reports from every unit of the

Alliance and determines all final policy and organisational decisions. Each party has one vote. As a last resort, each party also has the power to veto any decision.

Policy Policy development is co-ordinated by a ten-person committee convened by Jeannette Fitzsimmons. It delegates its work to sixteen policy working groups, made up of representatives from all parties who meet as often as necessary. During the debate on whether or not to send NZ 'peacekeeping' troops to Bosnia, for example, the international policy group met weeldy, and then daily, writing Anderton's parliamentary speeches and communicating the latest updates to him.

The groups submit a progress report to the policy commit- tee, which compiles them into a written report every two months to the National Council for approval. The intention is to have a very detailed policy ready for the 1996 election manifesto. In the interim, policy groups communicate their resolutions to the public through press statements, speeches, private members' bills, public meetings, the Alliance news- paper, and discussion papers in the national Alliance mailout.

Once policy is agreed to by the national council, all Alliance representatives are required to uphold it. Candidates for public office are required to sign a written pledge agreeing to resign should they fail to support any Alliance policy. A number of dismissals and resignations (five) of public officials at local level have already taken place.

During the 1993 election, the Alliance committed itself to the following principles:

e Honesty and accountability. We will consult and stick to our priorities. We will work for ~.

* The protection and restoration of the environment as the basis of all life.

& The right of New Zealanders to meaningful work and an adequate living income.

* The right to free health care, free education and access to good quality housing.

* Services like electricity, telecommunications, post and public transport must be run as a service to the community, not purely for profit.

- The Treaty of Waitangi is NZ's founding document and con- stitutional base. The Alliance supports settlements recom- mended by the Waitangi Tribunal.

* Control of our own destiny. No further sales of strategic assets to overseas interests. No involvement in foreign military pacts. Fair trade rather than free trade. * NZ will remain nuclear-free.

First national election By early 1993, with a strong policy beneath them and a full slate of candidates for all seats, the Alliance was ready for business. It distributed a policy manifesto across NZ that detailed the Alliance's costed policies, and even spelt out how much more tax would be needed to fund its programs.

But the Alliance was nearly ruined when it considered entering into a coalition with Winston Peters, a former National MP known for populist speeches. Peters was quick to criticise Labour and National, and his calls for a return to a simpler NZ drew in thousands ready to support him, even though he rarely offered solutions or concrete policy. After opinion polls gave an Alliance-Peters coalition enough support to win government, the Alliance approached him to form such a coalition.

'The Liberals, Democrats, and some individuals in the NLP - mostly candidates - wanted it to happen so badly, they were prepared to compromise for electoral advantage,' says McCarten, who handled the talks between the two. 'With all the other parties, we united only on a platform of principles. With Winston, there was no policy. We were just going to the country saying, "trust us".'ln the end, the Alliance Council was forced to dismiss Peters because they could not get him to agree to any policy. At that point public support fell, and with just four months until the election the Alliance turned back to the campaign with precious little time left.

Throughout the campaign, the Alliance was attacked by big business and labour. Although the Alliance promoted a stronger pro-worker, pro-union platform, the trade union leadership took what they believed to be a strategic position, and encouraged workers to vote for Labour in order to oust the Nationals.

The Alliance presence changed the political debate during the election, dramatically increasing public support for pro- gressive taxation, and also played a significant role in the campaign for IMP. When the election results were in, the Alliance did well. It won 18.2% of the vote, although only two of its candidates - Sandra Lee for Auckland Central, and Jim Anderton - were returned to parliament. Exit polls showed that people had voted for Alliance policies, rather than for the loyalty they had for Labour and National. Of voters polled, 38% said they voted for Alliance policies, compared to 8% for National policies and 4% for Labour policies. Despite $5 mil- lion poured into an anti-IMP advertising campaign by big business, the electoral reform triumphed. With the same percentage of votes under IMP, the Alliance would have sent twenty-five candidates to parliament.

Public support grows

Since the election, the Alliance has shown leadership on issues ranging from privatisation to workers' rights and the need to repeal the Employment Contracts Act. According to the International Labour Organisation, this act breached its conventions that workers be given the freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively.

lan Temple (Sunday Star Times, 24.4.94) commented: 'While Labour and National are busy trying to shore up their crumbling constituencies, the Alliance is steadily building its own, after welding together its five constituent elements. Where some commentators predicted that the Alliance's unity could not survive much beyond last year's election, Mr Anderton's leadership has supplied the glue to hold it firmly together, and build it into something more than a blast from the past.'

In poll after poll, Anderton was chosen as the person most New Zealanders favoured for prime minister. 'Anderton is now more than twice as popular as the prime minister in spite of receiving little publicity this year,' wrote the National Business Review (22.4.94). Results show that if general elections were held, the Alliance would be neck and neck with National, with Labour in third place. What has caused the Alliance's increas- ing popularity?

Sandra Lee says that people are tired of change induced by government: 'Anger has reached a point in this Country that's overwhelming. It has changed NZ society irrevocably. You've got people wearing returned servicemen's badges marching through the streets, arriving on the grounds of parliament screaming at politicians, in a way that was the exclusive pre- serve of students once. You have people resigning froni.their political ties with Labour and National that have been held in families for generations. There is such a general mistrust of politicians now, and as a result the Alliance is seen by many as the only hope for restoring political democracy and accountability.'

Matt Robson likens the current public support to a wartime situation: 'At the beginning, those people against the war are small, and written off as loonies. Then as people go through the experience of war, and come to be against it themselves, they say, "Ah, that group was saying that at the beginning. They told us that's what's happening." And then they become the majority.' Indeed, the public is unconvinced of the value of economic and social changes enacted since 1984, according to a Massey University study. Support for redistributing income and wealth is rising, as is support for increased spending in areas like education and assistance for the unemployed.

Despite having only two Ws, the Alliance has managed to bring solutions to mend that disillusionment into the public arena. For one, it has forced Labour and National to address issues like progressive taxation, privatisation, deregulation, and big cuts in welfare spending.'Otherwise they'd be handing us political support on a plate,' says Anderton. 'If they went out there and announced even more asset sales they'd be in big political trouble because the majority of New Zealanders don't want to promote that.' Fitzsimmons agrees: 'The Alliance had a lot to do with Electricorp not being sold. It was only because of the political focus we placed on the issue that forced them to back down.'

Even on unpopular questions like international policy, the Alliance has stuck its neck out. It forced a debate around the war in Bosnia, says Lee, 'when National and Labour were quite happy to send these young New Zealanders off to keep a fictitious peace in a place on the other side of the world.' The Bosnia debate exemplified the breadth of viewpoints and experience within the Alliance. 'On the executive conference call, every party knew something that the other party didn't,' says Fitzsimmons. 'The Democrats had consulted with a military expert, and found that NZ troops were not trained for peacekeeping, only combat. The Liberals had information about platoons. Everyone was in agreement.'

Working co-operatively has also favoured the Alliance. 'Joining forces with the other parties and looking as if we were working in a constructive way rather than a destructive way like the major parties has made a difference,' says Petronella Townsend, Alliance policy committee member. It is generally accepted by commentators that the Alliance knows how to work within an MMP environment, and is a more stable grouping than Labour or National.

As Alliance public support increases, its main opposition comes not from the Nationals but from Labour, the traditional so-called social democratic party. 'We're competing with each other for the progressive vote, so as Labour falls, it becomes more strident and vicious,' says McCarten. On a recent trip to Hong Kong, Labour leader Helen Clark went so far as to warn potential Asian investors away from NZ if an Alliance government were elected. The Alliance's economic policies, she said, 'bear all the hallmarks of peronism and would destroy economic recovery.' (Independent, 6.5.94)

Despite those types of attacks, commentators predict an Alliance-Labour coalition under MMP. But for many within the Alliance, that coalition appears unlikely, at this point. In the same article, Anderton questioned what they would have in common: 'Are we going to go into government with a coalition partner that doesn't want progressive taxation, doesn't see environmental policy as central to its economic policies, doesn't see universality in essential services as a principle on which to base policy? You are getting into some pretty funda- mental things here.'

'As NZ enters an era of "supermarket politics",' wrote Pattrick Smellie (Independent, 31.3.94), 'much support could yet be gained by the party producing the most excitement, commitment, and freshness. If it can hang together - and the signs are that it should and can - the Alliance may well be that party.'

Matt McCarten has faith in the future: 'First they said we could not get together - and we did. Then they said we could never agree on a policy - and we have. Then they said we wouldn't rate in the election - and we did. Now that the Alliance support matches that of the other two major parties, and Jim is preferred prime minister, they're saying we could be the next government. And who knows, we just might.'

Alliance minimum program for a coalition (Presented to Alliance regional councils, November 1994)

Preamble: The purpose of this statement of fundamental principles is to provide the basis for discussions of possible coalitions with other political parties, without reference to past political or personal differences. We believe that trust in government will be further eroded if parties negotiate agreements after elections are over. Voters have a right to know what coalitions are possible, and what their minimum program will be. While on the one hand we acknowledge the need for the sort of frank debate that can only occur in private, we owe Alliance voters and all New Zealanders a guarantee concerning a minimum program that will not be bargained away.
We welcome discussions with other political parties, but if they are not able to commit to all the principles below, we will not join them in a coalition. We will expect their candidates as well as ours to sign a declaration of commitment to whatever common program is negotiated.These principles should be read in conjunction with the Alliance manifesto. The Alliance is still committed to those of its policies which are not included in this statement, and is pledged to vote for them and to " to achieve majority support in the House in order to implement them. We will not trade off any part of our policy in order to gain support for another part. Some of these principles could be met by a range of different measures. The means and timing by which we give them effect are a proper subject for negotiation. Further, we believe that these principles can only be implemented effectively with a strengthened, professional public service.

The principles are not listed in any order of priority.

The twelve fundamental policy principles