By Reihana Mohideen
According to a recently published New Zealand National Business Review Insight poll, the Alliance of third parties, of which the NewLabour Party is a leading component, leads the National Party government in voter popularity.
Matt McCarten, the president of the NewLabour Party, speaking to Green Left Weekly from Auckland, explained that those surveyed were asked which of the parties they would support in the next elections: the National Party, the old Labour Party or the Alliance of third parties. The results were the old Labour party 40%, the Alliance 31% and the National Party 28%.
The setting up of a united electoral alliance is a proposal under discussion amongst the NewLabour Party, the Greens, the Democrats, and the movement for Maori self-determination, Mana Motuhake. While the Alliance has not been formally constituted on a national level, members of these groups are already participating in several joint Alliance activities, including standing Alliance candidates in some local election campaigns. The parties concerned will be meeting again on December 1 to constitute the Alliance formally.
According to McCarten, the Alliance, even though not formally constituted, is now considered to be a serious force in New Zealand politics, especially since the release of the Insight poll. "Political commentators and the Labour Party in particular are now starting to take us much more seriously. The Labour Party sees us as a major threat." The Labour Party had a policy of never debating Jim Anderton, the leader of the NLP, on television. But the recent polls pressured the deputy leader of the Labour Party, Helen Clark, to debate Anderton on prime time TV.
"Jim took her apart. It was a terrible spectacle to watch", McCarten said. "They can't defend their right-wing policies of user pay health care, education and the debacle of Rogernomics. How can they look credible with their previous record in government? Anyway, Jim knows all their secrets. There isn't much that they can hide from him."
The Alliance has received tremendous publicity from the release of the polls. "We were on national prime time TV three times in a row. We spend half our time doing radio interviews now. On one radio show in Auckland, I mentioned the phone number of the NLP offices, and the phones have been ringing hot ever since."
An Auckland Regional Council by-election in the working-class seat of Panmure, which is being contested by NLP candidate Bruce Jesson, is now of national significance and has started to receive national TV coverage. The Labour Party, which was virtually absent from the campaign a few weeks ago, is now throwing big resources into it.
Meanwhile the resignation of past National Party prime minister Robert Muldoon will result in a by-election being called some time early next year in his seat of Tamaki. Already radio and TV polls have been conducted amongst the Tamaki voters. A TV poll conducted on November 20 shows the Alliance with 34% popularity, ahead of to the National Party's 44%. This in a seat which Muldoon held for the Nationals for some 30 years.
"The Alliance is capturing the peoples imagination", says McCarten. "The NewLabour Party is doing very well as a result of this. The news media go to Jim Anderton as the spokesperson for the Alliance. The Labour Party and some political commentators are starting to call it the NewLabour Party Alliance."
In another radio phone poll conducted on November 20, 75% of the callers supported the Alliance. Some 14% supported the Nationals and Labour rated a poor 7%.
Meanwhile, the newly formed Liberal Party also wants to join the Alliance. The Liberal Party formed as a result of the resignation of two National Party parliamentarians, Gilbert Myles and Hamish MacIntyre. They resigned over the slashing of pensions and social welfare benefits in the last budget. They have requested permission to attend the December 1 meeting of the Alliance parties. The December 1 meeting will be hosted by Mana Motuhake.
The old Social Credit Party has recently folded up. According to McCarten, "They wanted to join the Alliance. We rejected them because we think their policies are too right wing. They disbanded soon after."
The left who remain in the old Labour Party used to argue that one was inevitably doomed to political wilderness outside the Labour Party. Therefore the strategy was to stay inside and fight. This has also been the refrain of the ALP left in Australia. The experience of the NewLabour Party on the other hand has rather resoundingly shown what can be achieved when there is a left break outside of Labor.
(Matt McCarten will be attending the Democratic Socialist Party national conference in January 1992. He will be a featured speaker on the current political situation in New Zealand. The conference will be held in Sydney from January 2 to 6. For more information, see page 14.)