Reform Party (New Zealand)

Last updated

Reform Party
FoundedFebruary 1909
Dissolved1936;83 years ago (1936)
Merged into National Party
Ideology Conservatism
Political position Centre-right
National affiliation United/Reform Coalition (1931–36)

The Reform Party, formally the New Zealand Political Reform League, was New Zealand's second major political party, having been founded as a conservative response to the original Liberal Party. It was in government between 1912 and 1928, and later formed a coalition with the United Party (a remnant of the Liberals), and then merged with United to form the modern National Party.

New Zealand Country in Oceania

New Zealand is a sovereign island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. The country geographically comprises two main landmasses—the North Island, and the South Island —and around 600 smaller islands. New Zealand is situated some 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) east of Australia across the Tasman Sea and roughly 1,000 kilometres (600 mi) south of the Pacific island areas of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga. Because of its remoteness, it was one of the last lands to be settled by humans. During its long period of isolation, New Zealand developed a distinct biodiversity of animal, fungal, and plant life. The country's varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks, such as the Southern Alps, owe much to the tectonic uplift of land and volcanic eruptions. New Zealand's capital city is Wellington, while its most populous city is Auckland.

A political party is an organized group of people, often with common views, who come together to contest elections and hold power in the government. The party agrees on some proposed policies and programmes, with a view to promoting the collective good or furthering their supporters' interests.

Historic conservatism in New Zealand

Conservatism in New Zealand is related to its counterparts in other Western nations, but developed uniquely over time. Advocates followed a political ideology that emphasised the preservation of traditional beliefs, institutions and practices.

Contents

Foundation

The Reform Party Caucus, 1909. Reform Party Caucus 1909.jpg
The Reform Party Caucus, 1909.

The Liberal Party, founded by John Ballance and fortified by Richard Seddon, was highly dominant in New Zealand politics at the beginning of the 20th century. The conservative opposition, consisting only of independents, was disorganised and demoralised. It had no cohesive plan to counter the Liberal Party's dominance, and could not always agree on a single leader — it was described by one historian as resembling a disparate band of guerrillas, and presented no credible threat to continued Liberal Party rule.

The New Zealand Liberal Party was the first organised political party in New Zealand. It governed from 1891 until 1912. The Liberal strategy was to create a large class of small land-owning farmers who supported Liberal ideals, by buying large tracts of Māori land and selling it to small farmers on credit. The Liberal Government also established the basis of the later welfare state, with old age pensions, developed a system for settling industrial disputes, which was accepted by both employers and trade unions. In 1893 it extended voting rights to women, making New Zealand the first country in the world to enact universal female suffrage.

John Ballance 14th Premier of New Zealand

John Ballance was an Irish-born New Zealand politician who was the 14th Premier of New Zealand, from January 1891 to April 1893, the founder of the Liberal Party, and a Georgist. In 1891 he led his party to its first election victory, forming the first New Zealand government along party lines, but died in office three years later. Ballance supported votes for women and land reform, though at considerable cost to Māori.

Richard Seddon 15th and longest-serving Prime Minister of New Zealand

Richard John Seddon was a New Zealand politician who served as the 15th Premier of New Zealand from 1893 until his death in office in 1906.

Gradually, however, the Liberals began to falter — the first blow came with the death of Richard Seddon, their popular leader, but other factors contributed to their decline. Importantly for conservatives, the Liberals were slowly losing support from small farmers, who had once backed the Liberals due to their promise of land reform. Having achieved the land reforms, farmers had little reason to continue their support the Liberals, and drifted towards the socially conservative opposition. At the same time, the Liberals were also slowly losing their other base of support, the urban working class — the Ballance and Seddon governments had introduced many reformist labour laws, but under later leaders (notably Joseph Ward) the reforms had slowed. The Liberals were split between the farmers and the workers, attempting to please both and therefore satisfying neither. The attempts of the Liberals to win back the labour vote were decried by conservatives as "socialistic", and the flight of farmers and businessmen from the Liberal Party was accelerated. The conservative opposition, which pledged its opposition to the alleged socialist tendencies of the Liberals, was strengthened.

Land reform changes to land ownership

Land reform involves the changing of laws, regulations or customs regarding land ownership. Land reform may consist of a government-initiated or government-backed property redistribution, generally of agricultural land. Land reform can, therefore, refer to transfer of ownership from the more powerful to the less powerful, such as from a relatively small number of wealthy owners with extensive land holdings to individual ownership by those who work the land. Such transfers of ownership may be with or without compensation; compensation may vary from token amounts to the full value of the land.

Joseph Ward New Zealand politician

Sir Joseph George Ward of Wellington, 1st Baronet, was a New Zealand politician who served as the 17th Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1906 to 1912 and from 1928 to 1930. He was a dominant figure in the Liberal and United ministries of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The foundation of the Reform Party was closely associated with this return of the opposition to political significance, and with growing agitation against the Liberal Party's alleged socialism. The party itself crystallised around a farmer-turned-politician named William Massey, who became the leader of most conservatives in Parliament in 1903 after serving many years prior as the conservative whip. Also closely linked to the group were the Political Reform League, Auckland's "National Association", and (in an unofficial capacity) the Farmers' Union. The opposition began referring to itself as the Reform Party in 1909, and adopted a common platform for contesting elections. Among the party's important policy planks were farmers' freehold and the reform of the public service.

William Massey Prime Minister of New Zealand

William Ferguson Massey, commonly known as Bill Massey, was an Irish-born politician in New Zealand who served as the 19th Prime Minister of New Zealand from May 1912 to May 1925. He was the founding leader of the Reform Party, New Zealand's second organised political party, from 1909 until his death.

A whip is an official of a political party whose task is to ensure party discipline in a legislature. This usually means ensuring that members of the party vote according to the party platform, rather than according to their own individual ideology or the will of their constituents.

In English law, a fee simple or fee simple absolute is an estate in land, a form of freehold ownership. It is a way that real estate and land may be owned in common law countries, and is the highest possible ownership interest that can be held in real property. Allodial title is reserved to governments under a civil law structure. The rights of the fee simple owner are limited by government powers of taxation, compulsory purchase, police power, and escheat, and it could also be limited further by certain encumbrances or conditions in the deed, such as, for example, a condition that required the land to be used as a public park, with a reversion interest in the grantor if the condition fails; this is a fee simple conditional.

Despite campaigning heavily against the government's "socialism", it did not propose to undo the Liberal Party's labour and welfare reforms. In 1911 a consistent theme of the Reform campaign was that it stood for "true Liberalism" and the Opposition accepted the permanency of the basic reforms of the Liberals in the 1890s. They claimed patronage, corruption and "Tammanyism" e.g. in civil service appointments. [1]

Reform Government

In the 1911 elections, the Reform Party won thirty-seven seats compared with thirty-three for the Liberals. Supporters of the Liberals denied that Reform had won a mandate to rule, however, pointing out that the country quota (a system in which rural electorates were smaller than urban ones, meaning that rural areas were slightly over-represented in Parliament) worked to "inflate" Reform's vote. Nevertheless, it did not take long for the Liberal government, now ruling only with the support of independents, to fall. William Massey became Prime Minister on 10 July 1912.

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.

Prime Minister of New Zealand head of the New Zealand government

The Prime Minister of New Zealand is the head of government of New Zealand. The incumbent Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, leader of the New Zealand Labour Party, took office on 26 October 2017.

In government, the Reform Party implemented many of its policies regarding freehold and public service reform. Many other Liberal-era policies were not changed, however, and Reform gained further support from disillusioned members of the Liberal Party. Reform also demonstrated its tough line against "socialism" with its responses to a number of notable strikes — the Waihi miners' strike, led by left-wing unions which Massey condemned as "enemies of order", was harshly suppressed, and one worker died. A dockworkers' strike in 1913 was also broken. The strikes prompted considerable concern about socialism in certain sectors of society, boosting Reform's results in the 1914 elections.

In the 1919 elections, Reform further strengthened its position, despite the emergence of a single united Labour Party. In the 1922 elections, however, the approach of depression cost the government considerably, and Reform was forced to build an unstable coalition of independents.

In 1925, Massey died. After a period under interim leader Francis Bell, Reform chose Gordon Coates as its new leader. Coates, while not regarded as politically astute, was relatively popular with the public, and campaigned well. In the 1925 elections, Reform won a surprisingly high number of seats — fifty-five, compared with twelve for Labour and eleven for the chaotic Liberals. This victory was not as pronounced in the statistics for the popular vote, however — many believed that Reform had profited from the three-party configuration, with the anti-Reform vote being split.

In the 1928 elections, however, there was a substantial reversal. The new United Party, founded on the ashes of the Liberal Party, experienced a surge of support, tying with Reform on twenty-seven seats. The Labour Party won nineteen seats. The Reform Party government was defeated by an alliance of United and Labour.

Opposition and Coalition

The Reform Party, still led by Coates, continued in opposition. The worsening economic situation left the United Party government struggling, and in 1931, the Labour Party withdrew its support in protest at certain economic measures. The Reform Party reluctantly agreed to support the United Party government, as the depression had raised fears of major gains for Labour if an election were held. United and Reform established a coalition government, with United's George Forbes remaining Prime Minister but Reform's Downie Stewart becoming Finance Minister.

In coalition, the two parties suffered only minor losses in the 1931 elections. As the depression failed to dissipate, however, the government became more and more unpopular, and support for the Labour Party soared. Clashes between Gordon Coates (who still led Reform) and Downie Stewart over economic policy eventually prompted Downie Stewart's resignation, earning the government a new critic and hurting its popularity still further. In addition, some of the coalition's measures to revive the economy were condemned by some as "socialist" — the Democrat Party, founded to fight this "socialism", cost the coalition a certain amount of support. In the 1935 elections, the coalition to suffered a massive defeat to the Labour Party, winning only nineteen seats to Labour's fifty-three.

Shortly after losing the 1935 elections, Reform and United resolved to merge completely, creating a united front against Labour. The new group was named the National Party, and has remained Labour's principal opponent ever since.

Parliamentary leaders

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

No.LeaderPortraitTermPositionPrime Minister
1 William Massey William Ferguson Massey 1919.jpg February 190910 May 1925LO1909–1912 Ward
Mackenzie
PM1912–1925Massey
2 Francis Bell
(interim)
Francis Bell.jpg 14 May 192530 May 1925PM1925Bell
3 Gordon Coates Joseph Gordon Coates, 1931.jpg 30 May 192513 May 1936PM1925–1928Coates
LO1928–1931 Ward
Forbes
Junior coalition partner
in government 1931–1935
Junior coalition partner
in opposition 1935–1936
Savage
Reform Party merged into National Party 1936.

Electoral results

Election# of votes% of vote# of seats
won
Government/opposition?
1911 159,30933.37
37 / 80
Government
1914 243,02547.1
40 / 80
1919 193,67635.7
43 / 80
1922 249,73539.35
37 / 80
1925 324,23947.18
55 / 80
1928 271,25935.87
28 / 80
Opposition
1931 190,17026.6
28 / 80
Government (coalition)
1935 285,422†33.48†
9 / 80
Opposition

Total Coalition vote.

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References

  1. Hamer 1988, pp. 329, 330.

Further reading

Contemporary sources