By Norm Dixon
AUCKLAND — In the wake of the resignation of Jim Anderton, leader of the New Zealand Alliance and the country's most popular parliamentarian, the five-party Alliance has begun far-reaching organisational changes and policy discussions.
The proposed changes, unveiled at the Alliance's Auckland regional conference on November 12-13, represent a shift to the left and reflect the mood of a membership determined to prove the falsity of claims by the conservative Labour and National parties, and the big business press, that Anderton's departure is the death knell of the Alliance.
Mana Motuhake leader Sandra Lee was elected leader unanimously by the Alliance National Council on November 11. Alliance co-deputy and Green Party leader Jeanette Fitzsimons predicted that Lee, a young, Maori woman, would come to symbolise the "new" politics in New Zealand.
In her address to the Auckland conference, her first speech as leader, Lee attacked New Zealand's money market operators, who were seen on national television celebrating Anderton's resignation with expensive champagne, and the Labour Party. If the yuppies of the banks' back rooms were worried by Jim Anderton, she vowed they would soon "think I am the wicked witch of the west".
Lee repeated Anderton's parting message that the Alliance's popularity was not based simply on the Anderton's personal following. She pointed out that Anderton was so popular because he did not hunger for power. Had he put power before principles, he could have been a cabinet minister in the '80s and prime minister in the '90s.
"He acted according to a sense of right and wrong, not what was popular and politically safe", she said. That would continue to be the attitude of the Alliance.
The Alliance's conservative opponents "miss the point, as they always have about the Alliance. Our politics is not waging war and scoring petty points via the fax machine. Our politics is a movement that erupted spontaneously at the betrayal of Labour and National in 1991 ... It was a movement of mass protest. We have moved beyond that phase ... With MMP [proportional representation], we will be shaping the politics of the next generation. The role of the Alliance is no longer to prevent change but to cause it. It is no longer a movement of anger, of the powerless reacting. Under MMP, those who have been powerless can seize power."
Lee warned Labour that "there are only two poles in New Zealand society. There is the business elite who have been absorbed into the international money markets, and there is the bulk of New Zealanders whose stake is in this country and who yearn to rebuild it ... When the crunch comes, it is Labour that will get crunched [by the Alliance]."
The Alliance has brought forward its national conference, originally scheduled for April, to December 10. There, questions of political program and organisational reform will be settled. The proposals were presented to the Auckland regional conference and in coming weeks will be presented to conferences in Wellington and Christchurch.
The policy discussions focus on a draft 12-point "Alliance Fundamental Policy Principles". It includes a commitment to honour the Treaty of Waitangi with the Maori people; free and universal health and education; full employment; sustainable management of all natural resources; reversal of social security cuts; increased taxes on business and high income earners and tax decreases for low income earners; no more privatisations; protection of wages and conditions and support for trade unions; increasing international aid to at least 0.7% of GDP; a foreign policy based on support for social justice, self-determination and the rights of oppressed workers.
The program will be the bottom line for any coalition including the Alliance. If a prospective coalition partner was unable to agree on all 12 points then the Alliance would prefer to remain in opposition.
Labour leader Helen Clark immediately dismissed the draft as "nonsense". "The Alliance is not prepared to depart in any way from its own extremist agenda", Clark complained.
Alliance director Matt McCarten disclosed that 12 anonymous Labour Party MPs are prepared to desert to the Alliance on the basis of the draft principles.
Auckland Alliance members urged that the draft be strengthened with the addition of clauses which included pledges either to buy back or to renationalise privatised enterprises and to abolish the Goods and Services Tax.
Also being discussed is an overhaul of the Alliance's organisational structure. At the moment power in the Alliance rests with the representatives of the five constituent parties — NewLabour, Greens, Mana Motuhake, Liberals and Democrats — on the national council. All decisions must be unanimous.
Only members of the constituent parties have full membership rights. A membership category known as Alliance Supporters — people who have joined the Alliance directly — have few rights, while their numbers rival the combined memberships of all five parties. These supporters are often the hardest working and most committed members of the Alliance.
Proposals to restructure the Alliance would allow each of the country's 60 electorates to represented on the national council. Affiliated parties would maintain their current representation, but their power of veto would be removed. All Alliance members would have equal rights. The Alliance's leadership and national officers would be elected by the membership and would also sit on the national council, as would any Alliance MPs.
The proposals were greeted with enthusiasm by the Auckland conference. The conference also insisted that Alliance candidates must be fully committed to the Alliance fundamental principles.
Alliance activists were given an added morale boost on November 13, when, contrary to all predictions, the first opinion poll to be published after the Anderton resignation showed that the Alliance had lost little support and remained more popular than Labour. The poll placed the National Party at 29%, the Alliance at 23%, Labour at 22%, Winston Peter's New Zealand First at 4% and Roger Douglas' ACT at 3%, with 19% undecided.