New Zealand Labour Party

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New Zealand Labour Party

Rōpū Reipa o Aotearoa
President Nigel Haworth [1]
General SecretaryAndre Anderson [2]
Leader Jacinda Ardern
Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis
Founded7 July 1916;102 years ago (7 July 1916)
Merger of United Labour Party,
Social Democratic Party
HeadquartersFraser House,
160–162 Willis St,
Wellington 6011
Youth wing Young Labour
LGBT+ wing Rainbow Labour
Ideology Social democracy [3] [4]
Political position Centre-left [5] [6] [7]
International affiliation Progressive Alliance [8]
Colours     Red
SloganLet's Do This [9]
MPs in the House of Representatives
46 / 120

The New Zealand Labour Party (Māori : Rōpū Reipa o Aotearoa), [10] or simply Labour (Reipa), is a centre-left political party in New Zealand. [5] The party's platform programme describes its founding principle as democratic socialism, [11] while observers describe Labour as social-democratic and pragmatic in practice. [3] [4] It is a participant of the international Progressive Alliance. [8]

Māori language Polynesian language spoken by New Zealand Māori

Māori, also known as te reo, is an Eastern Polynesian language spoken by the Māori people, the indigenous population of New Zealand. Closely related to Cook Islands Māori, Tuamotuan, and Tahitian, it gained recognition as one of New Zealand's official languages in 1987. The number of speakers of the language has declined sharply since 1945, but a Māori language revitalisation effort slowed the decline, and the language has experienced a revival, particularly since about 2015.

Democratic socialism Form of socialism that advocates political democracy alongside a socially owned economy

Democratic socialism is a political philosophy that advocates political democracy alongside a socially owned economy, with an emphasis on workers' self-management and democratic control of economic institutions within a market or some form of a decentralised planned socialist economy. Democratic socialists argue that capitalism is inherently incompatible with the values of liberty, equality and solidarity and that these ideals can be achieved only through the realisation of a socialist society. Democratic socialism can support either revolutionary or reformist politics as a means to establish socialism.

Social democracy is a political, social and economic philosophy that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal democratic polity and a capitalist mixed economy. The protocols and norms used to accomplish this involve a commitment to representative and participatory democracy, measures for income redistribution and regulation of the economy in the general interest and welfare state provisions. In this way, social democracy aims to create the conditions for capitalism to lead to greater democratic, egalitarian and solidaristic outcomes. Due to longstanding governance by social democratic parties during the post-war consensus and their influence on socioeconomic policy in the Nordic countries, social democracy has become associated in policy circles with the Nordic model in the latter part of the 20th century.


The New Zealand Labour Party was formed in 1916 by various socialist parties and trade unions. It is thus the country's oldest political party still in existence. [12] With its main rival, the New Zealand National Party, Labour has dominated New Zealand governments since the 1930s. [13] To date, there have been six periods of Labour government under ten Labour prime ministers.

Socialism in New Zealand

The extent to which socialism plays a part in modern New Zealand politics depends on which definitions of socialist are used, but few mainstream politicians would describe themselves using the word "socialist". The term "social-democrat" is more common, but the more general "left-wing" or "centre-left" are used far more frequently. New Zealand has a complicated assortment of socialist causes and organisations. Some of these play a considerable role in public activism—some commentators claim that New Zealand socialists are more prominent in causes such as the anti-war movement than in promoting socialism itself. Other groups are strongly committed to radical socialist revolution.

A trade union is an association of workers forming a legal unit or legal personhood, usually called a "bargaining unit", which acts as bargaining agent and legal representative for a unit of employees in all matters of law or right arising from or in the administration of a collective agreement. Labour unions typically fund the formal organization, head office, and legal team functions of the labour union through regular fees or union dues. The delegate staff of the labour union representation in the workforce are made up of workplace volunteers who are appointed by members in democratic elections.

New Zealand National Party Major New Zealand political 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.

The party was first in power from 1935 to 1949, under prime ministers Michael Joseph Savage and Peter Fraser, when it established New Zealand's welfare state. It governed from 1957 to 1960, and again from 1972 to 1975, a single term each time; in 1974 the prime minister, Norman Kirk, died in office, which contributed to a decline in support. Up to the 1980s the party advocated a strong role for governments in economic and social matters. When it governed from 1984 to 1990 Labour instead privatised state assets and reduced the role of the state in the economy; Labour prime minister David Lange also introduced New Zealand's nuclear-free policy. Labour was again the largest party from 1999 to 2008 when it governed in coalition with, or on the basis of negotiated support from, several minor parties; Helen Clark became the first Labour prime minister to lead her government through a third term in office.

First Labour Government of New Zealand

The First Labour Government of New Zealand was the government of New Zealand from 1935 to 1949. Responsible for the realisation of a wide range of progressive social reforms during its time in office, it set the tone of New Zealand's economic and welfare policies until the 1980s, establishing a welfare state, a system of Keynesian economic management, and high levels of state intervention. The government came to power towards the end of, and as a result of, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and also governed the country throughout World War II.

Michael Joseph Savage first Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand

Michael Joseph Savage was a New Zealand politician who served as the 23rd Prime Minister of New Zealand, heading the First Labour Government from 6 December 1935 until his death.

Peter Fraser New Zealand politician

Peter Fraser was a New Zealand politician who served as the 24th Prime Minister of New Zealand from 27 March 1940 until 13 December 1949. Considered a major figure in the history of the New Zealand Labour Party, he was in office longer than any other Labour prime minister, and is to date New Zealand's fourth-longest-serving head of government.

Since the 2008 general election, Labour has comprised the second-largest caucus represented in the House of Representatives. In the 2017 general election, the party under Jacinda Ardern returned to prominence with its best showing since the 2005 general election, winning 36.9% of the party vote and 46 seats. [14] On 19 October 2017, Labour formed a minority coalition government with New Zealand First, with confidence and supply from the Green Party. Jacinda Ardern currently serves as Labour Party leader and prime minister, and Kelvin Davis is deputy leader.

2008 New Zealand general election election

The 2008 New Zealand general election was held on 8 November 2008 to determine the composition of the 49th New Zealand parliament. The conservative National Party, headed by its parliamentary leader John Key, won the largest share of votes and seats, ending nine years of government by the social-democratic Labour Party, led by Helen Clark. Key announced a week later that he would lead a National minority government with confidence-and-supply support from the ACT, United Future and Māori parties. The Governor-General swore Key in as New Zealand's 38th Prime Minister on 19 November 2008. This marked an end to nine years of Labour Party government, and the beginning of the Fifth National Government of New Zealand which would govern for 9 years, until its loss to the Labour Party in the 2017 general election.

A caucus is a meeting of supporters or members of a specific political party or movement. The term originated in the United States, but has spread to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Nepal. As the use of the term has expanded, the exact definition has come to vary between political cultures.

New Zealand House of Representatives Sole chamber of New Zealand Parliament

The New Zealand House of Representatives is a component of the New Zealand Parliament, along with the Sovereign. The House passes all laws, provides ministers to form a Cabinet, and supervises the work of the Government. It is also responsible for adopting the state's budgets and approving the state's accounts.


The New Zealand Labour Party was established on 7 July 1916 in Wellington, [12] bringing together socialist groups advocating proportional representation, the abolition of the country quota, the "recall" of Members of Parliament, as well as the nationalisation of production and of exchange. [15] Despite its Wellington origins, the West Coast town of Blackball is often regarded as the birthplace of the party, [16] as it was the location of the founding of one of the main political organisations which became part of the nascent Labour Party. The party was created by, and has always been influenced by, the trade unions, and in practice Labour Party politicians regard themselves as part of a broader labour movement and tradition. [17]

Proportional representation (PR) characterizes electoral systems in which divisions in an electorate are reflected proportionately in the elected body --- each citizen voter being represented proportionately as by Evaluative Proportional Representation located in Section 5.5.5, or by each party being represented proportionately. If n% of the electorate support a particular political party as their favorite, then roughly n% of seats will be won by that party. The essence of such systems is that all votes contribute to the result - not just a plurality, or a bare majority. The most prevalent forms of proportional representation all require the use of multiple-member voting districts, as it is not possible to fill a single seat in a proportional manner. In fact, the implementations of PR that achieve the highest levels of proportionality tend to include districts with large numbers of seats.

The country quota was a part of the New Zealand electoral system from 1881 until 1945. Its effect was to make urban constituencies more populous than those in rural areas, thus making rural votes worth more in general elections.

A member of parliament (MP) is the representative of the voters to a parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, this category includes specifically members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title. Member of Congress is an equivalent term in other jurisdictions.


The New Zealand Labour Party was an amalgamation of a number of early groups, the oldest of which was founded in 1901. The process of unifying these diverse groups into a single party was difficult, with tensions between different factions running strong. [18]

At the turn of the century, the radical side of New Zealand working class politics was represented by the Socialist Party, founded in 1901. The more moderate leftists were generally supporters of the Liberal Party. [19] In 1905, a group of working class politicians who were dissatisfied with the Liberal approach established the Independent Political Labour League, [20] which managed to win a seat in Parliament in the 1908 election. [21] [22] This established the basic dividing line in New Zealand's left-wing politics – the Socialists tended to be revolutionary and militant, while the moderates focused instead on progressive reform. [23]

In 1910, the Independent Political Labour League was relaunched as an organisation called the Labour Party, distinct from the modern party. Soon, however, the leaders of the new organisation decided additional effort was needed to promote left-wing cooperation, and organised a "Unity Conference". The Socialists refused to attend, but several independent labour activists agreed. The United Labour Party was born. [23]

Soon afterwards, the labour movement was hit by the Waihi miners' strike, a major industrial disturbance prompted by radicals in the union movement. [24] The movement was split between supporting and opposing the radicals, and in the end, the conservative government of William Massey suppressed the strike by force. In the strike's aftermath, there was a major drive to end the divisions in the movement and establish a united front – another Unity Conference was called, and this time the Socialists attended. [24] The resulting group was named the Social Democratic Party.

Not all members of the United Labour Party accepted the new organisation, however, and some continued on under their own banner. Gradually, however, the differences between the Social Democrats and the ULP Remnant broke down, and in 1915 they formed a unified caucus both to better oppose Reform and to differentiate themselves from the Liberals. [25] A year later yet another gathering was held. This time, all major factions of the labour movement agreed to unite, establishing the modern Labour Party. [26]

Electoral record of constituent parties pre-1916 Labour

TermElectoratePartyElected MPs
1908 1910 17th Wellington East Ind. Labour League David McLaren
19101911Changed allegiance to: Labour
19111912 18th Wellington South Labour Alfred Hindmarsh
19121914Changed allegiance to: United Labour
19141916 19th Wellington South United Labour
19111914 18th Grey Lynn Labour John Payne
19141916 19th Grey Lynn Independent Labour
1916Changed allegiance to: Independent
1911 1913 18th Otaki Labour John Robertson
19131914Changed allegiance to: Social Democrat
19111912 18th Wanganui Independent Labour Bill Veitch
19121914Changed allegiance to: United Labour
19141916 19th Wanganui United Labour
1916Changed allegiance to: Independent
1913 1914 18th Grey Social Democrat Paddy Webb
1914 1916 19th Grey Social Democrat
1913 1914 18th Lyttelton Social Democrat James McCombs
1914 1916 19th Lyttelton Social Democrat
1914 1916 19th Dunedin North United Labour Andrew Walker

Early years

Almost immediately, the new Labour Party became involved in the acrimonious debate about conscription, which arose during World War I – the Labour Party strongly opposed conscription, [27] several leading members were jailed and expelled from Parliament for their stand against the war: Peter Fraser, Harry Holland, Bob Semple and Paddy Webb. [28] The loss of leadership threatened to seriously destabilise the party, but the party survived. [28] (Fraser, Semple and Webb later supported conscription in World War II. [28] )

In its first real electoral test as a united party, the 1919 election, Labour won eight seats – the party's quick success shocked many conservatives. [29] This compared with 47 for the governing Reform Party and 21 for the Liberal Party. [30]

Although Labour had split with its more militant faction (who went on to form various socialist parties), it maintained what were at the time radical socialist policies. Labour's 'Usehold' policy on land was in essence the replacement of freehold tenure by a system of perpetual lease from the state, with all land transfer conducted through the state (the full nationalisation of farmland). This policy was unpopular with voters and was dropped by Labour, along with other more radical policies, throughout the 1920s. [23]

Members of the Labour parliamentary caucus, 1922. Prominent members are Harry Holland (seated, left of centre), Peter Fraser (seated, right of centre) and Michael Joseph Savage (back row, rightmost). New Zealand Parliamentary Labour Party, 1922.jpg
Members of the Labour parliamentary caucus, 1922. Prominent members are Harry Holland (seated, left of centre), Peter Fraser (seated, right of centre) and Michael Joseph Savage (back row, rightmost).

In the 1922 election, Labour more than doubled its number of seats, winning seventeen. In the 1925 election, it declined somewhat, but had the consolation of soon overtaking the Liberals as the second largest party. Harry Holland became the official Leader of the Opposition on 16 June 1926, after the Eden by-election on 15 April elected Rex Mason (Labour) to replace James Parr (Reform) who had resigned. After the 1928 election, however, the party was left in an advantageous position – the Reform Party and the new United Party (a revival of the Liberals) were tied on 27 seats each, and neither could govern without Labour support. Labour chose to back United, the party closest to its own views – this put an end to five terms of Reform Party government. [31]

The rigours of the Great Depression brought Labour considerable popularity, but also caused tension between Labour and the United Party. In 1931, United passed a number of economic measures which Labour deemed hostile to workers, and the agreement between the two parties collapsed. United then formed a coalition government with Reform, making Labour the Opposition. The coalition retained power in the 1931 election, but gradually, the public became highly dissatisfied with its failure to resolve the country's economic problems. In the 1935 election, the Labour Party gained a significant majority, gaining 53 seats to the coalition's 19, and returned to government.

Several of the early Labour Party stalwarts were Australian-born: Alfred Hindmarsh, Harry Holland, Michael Joseph Savage, Bob Semple, Paddy Webb, Bill Parry and later Jerry Skinner, Mabel Howard and Hugh Watt.

First Government (1935–1949) and opposition

Michael Joseph Savage was the first Prime Minister from the Labour Party. Michael Joseph Savage Portrait.jpg
Michael Joseph Savage was the first Prime Minister from the Labour Party.

Party leader Michael Joseph Savage became Prime Minister on 6 December 1935, marking the beginning of Labour's first term in office. The new government quickly set about implementing a number of significant reforms, including a reorganisation of the social welfare system and the creation of the state housing scheme. [32] Workers also benefited from the introduction of the forty hour week, and legislation making it easier for unions to negotiate on their behalf. [33] Savage himself was highly popular with the working classes, and his portrait could be found on the walls of many houses around the country. [34] At this time the Labour Party pursued an alliance with the Māori Rātana movement. [35]

The opposition, meanwhile, attacked the Labour Party's more left-wing policies, and accused it of undermining free enterprise and hard work. The year after Labour's first win, the Reform Party and the United Party took their coalition to the next step, agreeing to merge with each other. The combined organisation was named the National Party, and would be Labour's main rival in future years. [36]

Members of the First Labour Government, on the steps of the Parliamentary Library in Wellington, 1935 Labour Government caucus 1935.jpg
Members of the First Labour Government, on the steps of the Parliamentary Library in Wellington, 1935

Labour also faced opposition from within its ranks. While the Labour Party had been explicitly socialist at its inception, it had been gradually drifting away from its earlier radicalism. The death of the party's former leader, the "doctrinaire" Harry Holland, had marked a significant turning point in the party's history. Some within the party, however, were displeased about the changing focus of the party, most notably John A. Lee. Lee, whose views were a mixture of socialism and social credit theory, emerged as a vocal critic of the party's leadership, accusing it of behaving autocratically and of betraying the party's rank and file. After a long and bitter dispute, Lee was expelled from the party, establishing his own breakaway Democratic Labour Party. [37]

Savage died in 1940, and was replaced by Peter Fraser, who became Labour's longest-serving Prime Minister. Fraser is best known as New Zealand's leader for most of World War II. In the post-war period, however, ongoing shortages and industrial problems cost Labour considerable popularity, and the National Party, under Sidney Holland, gained ground although Labour was able to win the 1943 and 1946 elections. Finally, in the 1949 election, Labour was defeated. [38]

Fraser died shortly afterwards, and was replaced by Walter Nash, the long-serving Minister of Finance. [39] It was to be some time before Labour would return to power, however – Nash lacked the charisma of his predecessors, and National won considerable support for opposing the "industrial anarchy" of the 1951 waterfront dispute. In the 1957 election, however, Labour had a narrow majority of two seats, and returned to office.

Second Government (1957–1960) and opposition

Nash, Labour's third prime minister, took office in late 1957. Upon coming to power, Labour decided that drastic measures were needed to address balance of payments concerns. [40] This resulted in the highly unpopular "Black Budget" of Arnold Nordmeyer, the new Minister of Finance, which raised taxes on alcohol, cigarettes, cars, and petrol. [41] It is widely thought to have doomed the party to defeat despite the economy having rejuvenated less than a year after the Black Budget was adopted. [41] In the 1960 election, the National Party returned to power.

The elderly Nash retired in 1963, suffering from ill health. [42] He was replaced by Nordmeyer, but the taint of the Black Budget ensured that Nordmeyer did not have any appreciable success in reversing the party's fortunes. In 1965, the leadership was assumed by the younger Norman Kirk, who many believed would revitalise the party. Labour was defeated again in the next two elections, but in the 1972 election, the party gained a significant majority over its rival.

Third Government (1972–1975) and opposition

New Zealand Labour 1970s-1980s "L" logo Labour L Logo.png
New Zealand Labour 1970s–1980s "L" logo

Kirk proved to be an energetic Prime Minister, and introduced a number of new policies. His foreign policy stances included strong criticism of nuclear weapons testing and of South Africa's apartheid system. Kirk's health was poor, however, and was worsened by his refusal to slow the pace of his work. In 1974, Kirk was taken ill and died. He was replaced by Bill Rowling, who did not have the same appeal – in the 1975 election, Labour was defeated by National, which was led by Robert Muldoon. [43]

Rowling remained leader of the Labour Party for some time after his defeat. In the 1978 election and the 1981 election Labour won a larger share of the vote than National, but failed to win an equivalent number of seats. Rowling himself was compared unfavourably to Muldoon, and did not cope well with Muldoon's aggressive style. Rowling was eventually replaced by David Lange, who the caucus perceived as more charismatic. [44] In the snap election of 1984, Labour defeated the National party.

Fourth Government (1984–1990) and opposition

The free-market policies of David Lange's government deviated sharply from previous Labour governments. David Lange (cropped).jpg
The free-market policies of David Lange's government deviated sharply from previous Labour governments.

When the Fourth Labour Government came into power it uncovered a fiscal crisis that had been largely hidden by the outgoing Third National Government. [45] Government debt was skyrocketing, due largely to the costs of borrowing to maintain a fixed exchange rate. When the result of the election became clear Lange asked Muldoon to devalue the dollar, which he refused to do, resulting in a constitutional crisis and precipitating some of the changes in the Constitution Act 1986. [46]

The economic policy agenda of the Fourth Labour Government differed significantly from previous Labour governments. The Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas, was a supporter of free market theories, and sought to implement sweeping reforms ("Rogernomics") to the economy and tax system. [47] [48] This involved floating the New Zealand dollar, cutting government spending, reducing taxes and removing almost all industry subsidies. The government also revolutionised New Zealand's foreign policy, making the country a nuclear-free zone, [49] and effectively leaving the ANZUS alliance. Immigration policy was liberalised and migration from Asia was promoted. [50]

Other Fourth Labour Government innovations included extended the jurisdiction of the Waitangi Tribunal back to the date of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi; Homosexual Law Reform, which legalised homosexual relations; and the Bill of Rights Act, which enumerated civil and political rights. Throughout the first term of government, the Cabinet remained largely unified behind the radical financial, economic and social policy reforms that were enacted. [51]

In 1987 Labour won a first-past-the-post election for the last time (the mixed-member proportional system was introduced in 1996). It was not until this second term, which increased Labour's majority and was won mostly on the back of its anti-nuclear stance, that considerable divisions over economic policy began to arise within the Cabinet. [52] Ministers were divided on the extent and pace of further reforms, and there was rebellion among party members and disillusion among Labour voters. The party was also criticised by the Council of Trade Unions. Eventually, a large grouping of Labour members, led by Labour MP Jim Anderton, left to establish the NewLabour Party, forming the basis of the left-wing Alliance. [52] [53] At the same time, Douglas was pressing onwards, proposing a flat tax rate. Finally, David Lange forced Douglas to resign, and shortly afterwards resigned himself. [54]

Lange was replaced by Geoffrey Palmer. [54] Palmer, however, was unable to counter widespread discontent among Labour's traditional supporters, and a few months before the 1990 election, Palmer was replaced by Mike Moore. Labour suffered its worst defeat since it first took office in 1935. [53]

Moore was eventually replaced by Helen Clark, who led the party in opposition to the National government of Jim Bolger. During the period in opposition, the party made a measured repudiation of Rogernomics, although it has never returned to its original left-wing stance (its contemporary position is left-of-centre). [5] When the 1996 election, the first conducted under the MMP electoral system, gave the balance of power to the centrist New Zealand First party, many believed that Labour would return to power, but in the end New Zealand First allied itself with the National Party. This coalition was unstable, however, and eventually collapsed, leaving the National Party to govern as a minority government.

Fifth Government (1999–2008) and opposition

Helen Clark, Labour Prime Minister from 1999 to 2008 Helen Clark UNDP 2010.jpg
Helen Clark, Labour Prime Minister from 1999 to 2008

After the 1999 election, a coalition government of Labour and the Alliance took power, with Helen Clark becoming New Zealand's second female Prime Minister. [55] This government, while undertaking a number of reforms, was not particularly radical when compared to previous Labour governments, and maintained a high level of popularity. The Alliance, however, fell in popularity and split internally, the latter factor being one of the reasons cited by Clark for her calling the 2002 election several months early, which Labour comfortably won. [56]

Policies of the Fifth Labour Government include the KiwiSaver scheme, [57] the Working for Families package, increasing the minimum wage 5% a year, interest-free student loans, creation of District Health Boards, the introduction of a number of tax credits, overhauling the secondary school qualifications by introducing NCEA, and the introduction of fourteen weeks’ parental leave. [58] Labour also supported the Civil Union Act 2004, which legalised civil unions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. [59]

In early 2004, Labour came under attack for its policies on the foreshore and seabed controversy. [60] There were significant internal tensions within the party, eventually culminating in the resignation of junior minister Tariana Turia and her establishment of the new Māori Party. [61]

Party logo in 2008 Labourlogo2008.png
Party logo in 2008

Following the 2005 election, Labour formed a coalition with the Progressive Party (a faction of the old Alliance), and entered into complex confidence and supply agreements with the centrist United Future and New Zealand First parties, which gave both parties' leaders a ministerial portfolio, while remaining outside the Cabinet. A limited support agreement was also made with the Green Party, whereby certain policy concessions were to be made to the Greens in return for abstention on confidence and supply votes. Labour lost power when it was defeated by the National Party in the 2008 election.

Then-leader Phil Goff with current leader Jacinda Ardern and Carol Beaumont at an anti-mining march in Auckland, 2010 Mining Protest-4 cropped.jpg
Then-leader Phil Goff with current leader Jacinda Ardern and Carol Beaumont at an anti-mining march in Auckland, 2010

Following the loss to the National Party in the November 2008 election, Helen Clark stood down as leader of the party. [62] She was succeeded by Phil Goff (2008–2011). [63] Labour had a relatively high turnover of four leaders during its most recent term in opposition; this has been attributed in part to changes within public media and the political environment. [64] Goff led Labour into a second electoral defeat in 2011 and was succeeded by David Shearer (2011–2013). [65] Shearer resigned after losing the confidence of caucus. David Cunliffe (2013–2014) was elected in the 2013 leadership election. [66] Cunliffe was disliked by some factions within the Labour caucus but had strong support from the party membership. In the leadership contest he won first-preference votes from only one-third of Labour MPs. [67] Cunliffe resigned following a further election loss in 2014. He was replaced by Andrew Little (2014–2017). Little resigned in 2017 following new polling showing the party sinking to a record low result. [68] Jacinda Ardern (2017–present) was confirmed as the new Labour leader. [68] [69]

After Ardern's ascension to the leadership Labour rose dramatically in opinion polls. By late August they had risen to 43% in one poll (having been 24% under Little's leadership), as well as managing to overtake National in opinion polls for the first time in over a decade. [70]

Sixth Government (2017–present)

During the 2017 election, Labour gained 36.6% of the party vote and increased its presence in the House of Representatives to 46 seats, making it the second largest party in Parliament. [14]

On 19 October 2017, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters announced that his party would form a coalition government with Labour, [71] citing changing international and internal economic circumstances as the reasoning behind his decision, [72] coupled with a belief that a Labour government was best-placed to handle the social and economic welfare of New Zealanders in a global environment that was undergoing rapid and seismic change. [73] This coalition, combined with confidence and supply from the Green Party, [74] saw Labour return to government for the first time since 2008. Ardern became Prime Minister, with Peters as her deputy. [75]

The Labour government has pledged to eliminate child poverty, make tertiary education free, reduce immigration by 20,000–30,000, decriminalise abortion, introduce a water royalty, and make all rivers swimmable within 10 years. [73]


Labour's 1916 policy objectives called for "the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange", including state ownership of major parts of the economy, and increased rights for workers. [4] Up to the 1980s Labour remained a party that believed in a strong role for governments in economic and social matters. However, it had been transformed from a union-dominated, socialist-oriented movement into a moderate social-democratic party. [4] [3] [76] The Labour Government of the 1980s deviated sharply from a social-democratic path; in a series of economic reforms, the government removed a swathe of regulations and subsidies, privatised state assets and introduced corporate practices to state services. [77]

From the 1990s Labour has again aimed to use the power of the state to try to achieve a "fairer and more equal society", based on a mixed economy in which both the state and private enterprise play a part. [4] Subsequently, the party has also been described as embracing certain social liberal policies. [78] [79]


According to its constitution (amended most recently in 2014), the party accepts "democratic socialist" principles, including: [80]

Voter base

Historically, the party drew upon a stable sectional voter base comprising the urban working class – predominantly manual labourers and trade unionists. From the 1930s onwards, Labour has increasingly positioned itself as a broad-based party by responding and adapting to different social and economic problems and changing demographics (appealing to an expanding migrant population and a diversified ethnic social make-up). [4] Beginning in the 1980s, there was a shift away from class-issues and towards the promotion of individual freedoms, particularly for members of disadvantaged groups such as women and Māori. The modern party's core support base lies among young people, urban workers, civil servants, and minorities (particularly the Māori and Pacific Islander communities [81] ). [82]


Party structure

General and special branches

Party membership is tied into geographically-based branches in each parliamentary electorate. General branches must consist of at least 10 members aged 15 or over. [83] Members may also form special branches where they have a special community of interest (such as university students and academics, young people, women, Māori people, Pacific Islanders, multicultural groups, people with disabilities, the rainbow community and industrial workers). [83] Influential branches include Princes Street Labour (this university branch is described as the "ideological powerhouse of the party", [84] and has contributed many prominent Labour politicians) and Vic Labour (the Victoria University of Wellington branch). [85]

Labour Party membership, 1917–2002 [86]
New Zealand Labour Party

Membership figures are rarely released to the public. Full (non-affiliate) membership is known to have peaked at 55,000 in 1976. During the 1980s and 1990s party membership plummeted to levels not seen since before the First Labour Government. This decline might be attributed to disillusionment on the part of some members with the economics policies of the Fourth Labour Government ("Rogernomics"). Membership figures began to recover under Helen Clark's leadership, with 14,000 members recorded in 2002. [87]

Conference, councils and committees

Delegates from all branches in the electorate, together with delegates from affiliated unions, make up the Labour Electorate Committee (LEC). The LEC is responsible for party organisation in the electorate. [83] The party is divided into six regional areas, which each year convene a Regional Conference. [88] Policy and other matters are debated and passed onto the Annual Conference. [83]

The Annual Conference (also called Congress) is the supreme governing body of the Labour Party when it is in session. All constituent bodies of the party are entitled to send delegates to Annual Conference. [83]

The New Zealand Council is the Labour Party's governing executive. [88] It ensures that the party is governed effectively according to its constitution. The NZ Council consists of the president, two senior vice presidents (one of which must be a Māori), three vice presidents (representing women, affiliates, and Pacific Islanders), seven regional representatives, one Policy Council representative, three Caucus representatives, and the general secretary. [83]

The Policy Council, responsible for the development of the policy platform and election manifesto, [11] is elected for a three-year term following each general election. The party structure also provides for Special Interest Group Councils: representing the affiliates, women's issues, Māori issues, Pacific Islands, primary industries, local government, and youth. [83]

Caucus and parliamentary leadership
Leader Jacinda Ardern with party members at a Labour election campaign event, 2017 Labour-Pacfic-Launch-19 (35995067264) (2).jpg
Leader Jacinda Ardern with party members at a Labour election campaign event, 2017

The elected members representing the Labour Party in the House of Representatives meet as the Parliamentary Labour Party, also called the Caucus. The current parliamentary leader is Jacinda Ardern. [1] A leadership election is triggered upon the vacancy of the position of leader or a motion of no confidence. Candidates are nominated from within the Caucus. Under Labour Party rules, party members have 40% of the votes, MPs have another 40% of the votes, and affiliated unions have 20% of the votes. [83] Some observers have criticised the influence of the unions in leadership elections. [89]

Affiliated trade unions

In the first decades of the 20th century industries grew strongly in New Zealand's main cities and union membership also increased. The Labour Party was formed in this period as the political wing of the labour movement, and was financed by trade unions. Since then, the unions have retained close institutional links with the party. There are currently six unions that are directly affiliated to the party and pay affiliation fees, as well as receiving a percentage of the vote in party leadership elections. [89] These unions are:

In addition, the president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions continues to speak at the Labour Party Annual Conference. [91]

Young Labour

Young Labour is the party's youth wing. It exists to organise young members (under 26 [92] ) and encourage wider involvement of young New Zealanders in centre-left politics. Young Labour is the most active sector in the Labour Party and plays a significant role in policy development and campaign efforts. It is endearingly called the "conscience of the party". [93]

In March 2018, it was reported that four people under 16 were allegedly sexually assaulted at a Young Labour summer camp in February. The camp was said to have "mountains of alcohol", and people under the legal drinking age of 18 were said to have consumed alcohol. Although Young Labour and the Labour Party were aware of the allegations, party leadership failed to tell the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. The party offered counselling and support after the allegations were publicly reported. [94] [95] An independent review into the party's conduct and sexual assault complaint policy was announced by Party President Nigel Haworth, and was completed late August. The party has declined to release the report to the public. [96]

Local government

As of 2018, Auckland Council had four councillors serving under the Labour ticket and one serving under the affiliated City Vision ticket. Overall, the centre-left maintain a majority and the incumbent mayor, Phil Goff, is a former leader of the party. In addition, there are 26 elected Labour Party community board members across Auckland, while City Vision holds 15 seats.[ citation needed ]

In New Plymouth former MP Harry Duynhoven served as mayor from 2010–2013 where upon he was voted out of office. Lianne Dalziel was elected to be Mayor of Christchurch in the 2013 local body elections succeeding Sir Bob Parker, and former Rotorua electorate then list MP Steve Chadwick, was elected as Mayor of Rotorua in the 2013 elections, Both Dalziel and Chadwick ran however as independents.

In Christchurch Labour maintains an umbrella including community independents called The People's Choice (formerly Christchurch 2021). Labour candidates stand as 'The People's Choice (Labour)' and hold 11 community board seats, seven council seats, and several community board chairmanships.

Wellington has three Labour Party councillors: Brian Dawson – Lambton Ward councillor, Fleur Fitzsimons – Southern Ward councillor and Peter Gilberd – Northern Ward Councillor. Justin Lester is the current Mayor of Wellington who ran on a Labour Party ticket. There are many more local councillors in the Wellington region who are Labour Party members, but do not run as endorsed candidates of the party.

Chris Laidlaw, the chair of the Greater Wellington regional council is a former Labour MP. Daran Ponter of the Wellington City ward is the only councillor to have been elected on a Labour ticket, although other councillors such as Paul Swain and Penny Gaylor have a history with the party.

While the Labour Party has not recently contested the local body elections in Dunedin, the city councillor and former Labour MP David Benson-Pope announced on 26 February 2016 that he would be contesting the Dunedin local elections in October under the "Local Labour" ticket. While still a Labour Party member, Benson Pope had stood in the 2013 local elections as an independent candidate. This report coincided with the dissolution of the city's main local body ticket, the centre-left Greater Dunedin group. [97] On 20 April, it was reported that the Labour Party had dropped its plan to field a bloc of candidates in the 2016 Dunedin elections. However, the Party has not ruled out endorsing other candidates. [98]

In Palmerston North councillor Lorna Johnson is the sole representative to have been elected to the city council on a Labour ticket. However, there are several other councilors who are, or have been, members of the Labour Party who serve as independents.

In Whanganui the town's mayor, Hamish McDouall is a Labour member and previously contested the seat of Whanganui for the party. McDouall ran on an independent ticket.

In addition, there are many others councillors in almost all areas of New Zealand that are members or have previously had connections with the Labour Party, but have instead contested local elections as independents.

Electoral results


1919–1993 [99]
New Zealand Labour Party

MMP era, 1996–present [100] [101] [102] [103] [104]
New Zealand Labour Party
ElectionParty votes%Seats wonStatus
1919 131,40224.2
8 / 80
1922 150,448Decrease2.svg 23.70
17 / 80
1925 184,650Increase2.svg 27.20
12 / 80
1928 198,092Decrease2.svg 26.19
19 / 80
Junior in coalition with United
1931 244,881Increase2.svg 34.27
24 / 80
1935 434,368Increase2.svg 46.17
53 / 80
Two-party system era
1938 528,290Increase2.svg 55.82
53 / 80
1943 522,189Decrease2.svg 47.6
45 / 80
1946 536,994Increase2.svg 51.28
42 / 80
1949 506,073Decrease2.svg 47.16
34 / 80
1951 473,146Decrease2.svg 45.8
30 / 80
1954 481,631Decrease2.svg 44.1
35 / 80
1957 531,740Increase2.svg 48.3
41 / 80
1960 420,084Decrease2.svg 43.4
34 / 80
1963 383,205Increase2.svg 43.7
35 / 80
1966 382,756Decrease2.svg 41.4
35 / 80
1969 464,346Increase2.svg 44.2
39 / 84
1972 677,669Increase2.svg 48.37
55 / 87
1975 634,453Decrease2.svg 39.56
32 / 87
1978 691,076Increase2.svg 40.41
40 / 92
1981 702,630Decrease2.svg 39.01
43 / 91
1984 829,154Increase2.svg 42.98
56 / 95
1987 878,448Increase2.svg 47.96
57 / 97
1990 640,915Decrease2.svg 35.14
29 / 97
1993 666,759Decrease2.svg 34.68
45 / 99
Mixed-member proportional representation era
1996 584,159Decrease2.svg 28.19
37 / 120
1999 800,199Increase2.svg 38.74
49 / 120
Government (coalition)
2002 838,219Increase2.svg 41.26
52 / 120
2005 935,319Decrease2.svg 41.10
50 / 121
2008 796,880Decrease2.svg 33.99
43 / 122
2011 614,936Decrease2.svg 27.48
34 / 121
2014 604,534Decrease2.svg 25.13
32 / 121
2017 956,184Increase2.svg 36.89
46 / 120
Government (coalition)
Labour did not stand candidates in every electorate until 1946, when it stood candidates in all 80 electorates. According to the National Executive reports, [105] the number of official candidates in 1919 is uncertain (53 or possibly 46). The party ran 41 candidates in 1922; 56 in 1925; 55 in 1928; 53 in 1931; 70 in 1935; 78 in 1938; and 77 in 1943. Labour did not run against independent candidates who voted with Labour, such as Harry Atmore in Nelson and David McDougall in Mataura, Southland. Labour did not run candidates against the two Country Party candidates in 1935, but did in 1938, when both candidates were defeated.

Auckland local government

ElectionCandidates nominatedSeats won
Local BoardCouncilHealth BoardLicensing TrustLocal BoardCouncilHealth BoardLicensing Trust
2010 17/1493/200/216/41
12 / 149
2 / 20
0 / 21
6 / 41
2013 27/1494/202/218/35
20 / 149
2 / 20
1 / 21
7 / 35
2016 46/1497/209/219/35
26 / 149
3 / 20
2 / 21
9 / 35


The Labour Party has had seventeen leaders – ten of whom have served as Prime Minister. To date, Helen Clark served longest as leader of the Labour Party. While some dispute exists as to when Harry Holland officially became leader, by 26 October 2008 Clark had passed his longest possible leadership term. [106]

List of leaders

The following is a complete list of Labour Party leaders in the House of Representatives:

  Labour   Reform    United    National
PM: Prime Minister
LO: Leader of the Opposition
†: Died in office

No.LeaderPortraitTerm of OfficePositionPrime Minister
1 Alfred Hindmarsh Alfred Hindmarsh.jpg 7 July 191613 November 1918† Massey
2 Harry Holland Harry Holland (1925).jpg 27 August 19198 October 1933†
LO1926–1928 Coates
Junior coalition partner
LO1931–1933 Forbes
3 Michael Joseph Savage Michael Joseph Savage Portrait.jpg 12 October 193327 March 1940†LO1933–1935
4 Peter Fraser Peter Fraser.jpg 1 April 194012 December 1950†PM1940–1949Fraser
LO1949–1950 Holland
5 Walter Nash Walter Nash (ca 1940s).jpg December 195031 March 1963LO1951–1957
LO1960–1963 Holyoake
6 Arnold Nordmeyer Arnold Nordmeyer (1950).jpg 1 April 196316 December 1965LO1963–1965
7 Norman Kirk Norman Kirk Portrait.jpg 16 December 196531 August 1974†LO1965–1972
8 Bill Rowling Bill Rowling, 1962.jpg 6 September 19743 February 1983PM1974–1975Rowling
LO1975–1983 Muldoon
9 David Lange David Lange (1992).jpg 3 February 19838 August 1989LO1983–1984
10 Geoffrey Palmer Geoffrey Palmer.jpg 8 August 19894 September 1990PM1989–1990Palmer
11 Mike Moore Mike Moore, 1992 (crop).jpg 4 September 19901 December 1993PM1990Moore
LO1990–1993 Bolger
12 Helen Clark Helen Clark UNDP 2010.jpg 1 December 199319 November 2008LO1993–1999
13 Phil Goff Phil Goff.jpg 19 November 200813 December 2011LO2008–2011 Key
14 David Shearer David Shearer.jpg 13 December 201115 September 2013LO2011–2013
15 David Cunliffe David Cunliffe, 2008.jpg 15 September 201330 September 2014LO2013–2014
16 Andrew Little Andrew Little, 2017.jpg 18 November 20141 August 2017LO2014–2017
17 Jacinda Ardern Jacinda Ardern, 2018.jpg 1 August 2017IncumbentLO2017

List of deputy leaders

The following is a complete list of Labour Party deputy leaders:

No.Deputy leaderTerm
1 James McCombs 1919–1923
2 Michael Joseph Savage 1923–1933
3 Peter Fraser 1933–1940
4 Walter Nash 1940–1950
5 Jerry Skinner 1951–1962
6 Fred Hackett 1962–1963
7 Hugh Watt 1963–1974
8 Bob Tizard 1974–1979
9 David Lange 1979–1983
10 Geoffrey Palmer 1983–1989
11 Helen Clark 1989–1993
12 David Caygill 1993–1996
13 Michael Cullen 1996–2008
14 Annette King 2008–2011
15 Grant Robertson 2011–2013
16 David Parker 2013–2014
14 Annette King 2014–2017
17 Jacinda Ardern 2017
18 Kelvin Davis 2017–present

List of presidents

The following is a complete list of Labour Party presidents: [107]

1 James McCombs 1916–1917 [108]
2 Andrew Walker 1917–1918 [109]
3 Tom Paul 1918–1920 [110]
4 Peter Fraser 1920–1921
5 Frederick Cooke 1921–1922
6 Tom Brindle 1922–1926
7 Bob Semple 1926–1928
8 John Archer 1928–1929
9 Jim Thorn 1929–1931 [111]
10 Rex Mason 1931–1932
11 Bill Jordan 1932–1933
12 Frank Langstone 1933–1934
13 Tim Armstrong 1934–1935
14 Walter Nash 1935–1936
15 Clyde Carr 1936–1937
16 James Roberts 1937–1950 [112]
17 Arnold Nordmeyer 1950–1955
18 Michael Moohan 1955–1960
19 Martyn Finlay 1960–1964
20 Norman Kirk 1964–1966
21 Norman Douglas 1966–1970
22 Bill Rowling 1970–1972
23 Charles Bennett 1972–1976 [113]
24 Arthur Faulkner 1976–1978
25 Jim Anderton 1979–1984
26 Margaret Wilson 1984–1987
27 Rex Jones 1987–1988 [114]
28 Ruth Dyson 1988–1993
29 Maryan Street 1993–1995
30 Michael Hirschfeld 1995–1999
31 Bob Harvey 1999–2000
32 Mike Williams 2000–2009
33 Andrew Little 2009–2011
34 Moira Coatsworth 2011–2015
35 Nigel Haworth 2015–present

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The 52nd New Zealand Parliament is the current meeting of the legislative branch of New Zealand's Parliament. It was elected at the 2017 general election. The 52nd Parliament consists of 120 members, and is serving from its opening on 7 November 2017 until the next general election. Under section 17 of the Constitution Act 1986, Parliament expires three years "from the day fixed for the return of the writs issued for the last preceding general election of members of the House of Representatives, and no longer." With the date for the return of writs for the general election set at 12 October 2017, the 52nd Parliament must be dissolved on or before 12 October 2020.

2017 New Zealand Labour Party leadership election

The New Zealand Labour Party leadership election 2017 was held on 1 August 2017 to choose the next Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party. The election was won by Deputy Leader and Mount Albert MP Jacinda Ardern.

Clarke Gayford New Zealand radio and television broadcaster

Clarke Timothy Gayford is a New Zealand radio and television broadcaster, currently presenting a fishing documentary show, Fish of the Day. He is the partner and fiancé of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Sixth Labour Government of New Zealand

The Sixth Labour Government has governed New Zealand since 26 October 2017. It is headed by Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.