Social Democratic Party (New Zealand)

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Social Democratic Party of New Zealand
Abbreviation SDP
Founded 1 July 1913
Dissolved 1 June 1922;95 years ago (1 June 1922)(continuing group)
Merger of United Labour Party
New Zealand Socialist Party
Merged into Labour Party
Ideology Social democracy
Political position Left-wing

The Social Democratic Party of New Zealand was an early left-wing political party. It existed only a short time before being amalgamated into the new Labour Party. During its period of existence, the party held two seats in Parliament.

New Zealand Constitutional monarchy 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.

The New Zealand Labour Party, or simply Labour, is a centre-left political party in New Zealand. The party's platform programme describes its founding principle as democratic socialism, while observers describe Labour as social-democratic and pragmatic in practice. It is a participant of the international Progressive Alliance.

New Zealand Parliament legislative body of New Zealand

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Unity Conference



(independents) Labour Party

United Labour

Social Democratic

Labour Party (1916)

The Social Democratic Party was founded in January 1913 at a so-called "Basis of Unity" Conference (often simply called the "Unity Conference"). This meeting drew together the most prominent left-wing groups in New Zealand, including both political parties and trade unions. The aim was to unite the fractious labour movement into a cohesive force. At the end of the Conference, most of the attendees agreed to merge into two new organisations – the new United Federation of Labour would co-ordinate the trade unions, while the two main political parties (the hard-line Socialist Party and the moderate United Labour Party) would merge to form the Social Democrats. Not all members of the United Labour Party accepted the plan, however, and some continued on under the same banner and continued as a Rump party. [1]

The New Zealand Socialist Party was founded in 1901, promoting the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The group, despite being relatively moderate when compared with many other socialists, met with little tangible success, but it nevertheless had considerable impact on the development of New Zealand socialism. It later merged in 1913 with a faction of the United Labour Party to form the Social Democratic Party.

The United Labour Party of New Zealand was an early left-wing political party. Founded in 1912, it represented the more moderate wing of the labour movement. In 1916 it joined with other political groups to establish the modern Labour Party.

A rump party is a political party that is formed by the remaining body of supporters and leaders who do not support a breakaway group who merge with or form another new party. The rump party can have the name of the original party, or a new name.

The Social Democrats were founded with the purpose of becoming "...the political embodiment of working-class ideals aspirations" in parliament. [2]

John Alexander McCullough was the organiser for the Lower Riccarton branch and also organised campaigns for Christchurch City Council elections. [3]

John Alexander McCullough Tinsmith, trade unionist, political activist

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Riccarton, New Zealand Suburb

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Strike and 1914 election

The Social Democrats gained a rapid boost when, shortly after their formation, Paddy Webb and James McCombs won by-elections and entered Parliament. They joined with John Robertson, who won a seat in the 1911 election as a Labour candidate bringing the Social Democrat caucus to three. Later the same year, however, a controversial strike broke out among groups of dockworkers and miners. Moderates in the union movement considered the strike ill-advised and dangerous, while radicals strongly supported it. The strike was heavily suppressed by the government of William Massey, and the United Federation of Labour was left broken and disorganised. The Social Democrats, still closely linked to the United Federation of Labour, were plunged into disarray, with three of the party's leaders, Harry Holland, Peter Fraser and Bob Semple, being jailed for their roles in the strike. [4]

Paddy Webb New Zealand politician

Patrick Charles Webb was a New Zealand trade unionist and politician.

James McCombs New Zealand politician

James (Jimmy) McCombs was a New Zealand Member of Parliament for Lyttelton.

John Robertson (New Zealand politician, born 1875) New Zealand politician of the Labour Party

John Robertson (1875–1952) was a New Zealand politician of the Labour Party.

As a result of the chaos, the Social Democrats went into the 1914 elections with little in the way of planning. Co-operation with local labour organisations was sporadic, as was co-operation with the remnants of the United Labour Party. However, union anger at the government for its "heavy-handed" response to the 1913 strikes was still strong, and the outbreak of World War I had also strengthened the labour vote. In the election, Paddy Webb and James McCombs retained their seats under the Social Democratic banner while the remnants of the United Labour Party won three seats, and a labour-aligned independent John Payne was also successful. [5]

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

John Payne (politician) politician from New Zealand, born 1871

John Payne was a New Zealand politician.

By 1915, the Social Democrats had in its ranks 2 MPs, 2 Mayors; 17 city and borough councillors, 6 members of hospital and charitable aid boards and 2 members of harbour boards. [2]

The six labour-aligned MPs worked together in Parliament despite being from different parties, with Alfred Hindmarsh of the United Labour Party selected as the unified caucus' chairman. [6] In August 1915, when Massey formed his Liberal-Reform coalition government, he extended an invitation to Hindmarsh's caucus. The "Labour" members declined the offer and, as a result, became the official Opposition in Parliament. [4]

Group photo from the Social Democratic Party Annual Conference in Wellington, 1914. Social Democratic Party Annual Conference 1914.jpg
Group photo from the Social Democratic Party Annual Conference in Wellington, 1914.

Formation of the Labour Party

Two years later, in 1916, the close working relationship between the Social Democrats and the ULP remnant was formalised with a merger – the two officially came together as the Labour Party, the same organisation that survives today. [1] The organisation of the Social Democratic Party survived however, and the more militant inclined members of the newly formed Labour Party remained as an "alter-ego" of Labour still campaigning for the goal of complete socialisation until their eventual disbandment in June 1922. [7]

List of presidents


  1. 1 2 Brown 1966.
  2. 1 2 "The History of the S.D.P." Maoriland Worker. 1 September 1915. p. 8. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  3. Nolan, Melanie. "John Alexander McCullough". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  4. 1 2 Foster 1966.
  5. Hislop, J. (1915). The General Election, 1914. National Library. pp. 1–33. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  6. Paul 1946, pp. 70.
  7. O'Farrell 1978, pp. 201.
  8. McAloon, Jim. "Frederick Riley Cooke". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 30 July 2013.

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