New Zealand National Party

New Zealand National Party
Rōpū Nāhinara
Leader John Key
President Peter Goodfellow
Deputy Leader Bill English
Founded 14 May 1936 (1936-05-14)
Preceded by United-Reform Coalition
Headquarters 41 Pipitea Street, Thorndon, Wellington 6011
Youth wing Young Nationals
Ideology Conservatism
Classical liberalism[1][2][3]
Political position Centre-right[4]
European affiliation Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (regional partner)[5]
International affiliation International Democrat Union
Colors Blue
Slogan Working for New Zealand
MPs in the House of Representatives
59 / 121

The New Zealand National Party (Māori: Rōpū Nāhinara) is a centre-right[4] political party in New Zealand. It is one of the two major parties in New Zealand politics, the other being its historic rival, the New Zealand Labour Party. The party leader is John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

The party was founded in 1936 with the merger of the United and Reform parties, which had been in a coalition. It is the nation's second-oldest political party.[6] National was in government for four periods of the 20th century. It has favoured economic liberal policies since the 1990s.

Since November 2008, it has been the governing party in a minority government with support from the centrist United Future, the liberal ACT Party and the indigenous rights-based Māori Party. With 47% of votes in the 2014 New Zealand general election, the National Party's MPs represent 41 of 71 electorates in New Zealand and hold 59 of the 121 seats in the House of Representatives.

Principles and policies

We believe in the maximum degree of personal freedom and the maximum degree of individual choice for our people. We believe in the least interference necessary with individual rights, and the least possible degree of state interference.[7]

Keith Holyoake, 1959 speech

The New Zealand National Party has been characterised as conservative and liberal, with outlying populist and libertarian tendencies.[1][3] The party's principles, last revised in 2003, seek "a safe, prosperous and successful New Zealand that creates opportunities for all New Zealanders to reach their personal goals and dreams".[1][8] It supports a limited welfare state but says that work, merit, innovation and personal initiative must be encouraged to reduce unemployment and boost economic growth. Historically, the party has supported a higher degree of protectionism and interventionism than it has in recent decades.[9]

The First, Second and Third National Governments of New Zealand generally sought to preserve the economic and social stability of New Zealand, mainly keeping intact the high degree of protectionism and the strong welfare state built up by the First Labour Government of New Zealand. The last major interventionist policy was Prime Minister Robert Muldoon's massive infrastructure projects designed to ensure New Zealand's energy independence after the 1973 oil shock, Think Big.

The Fourth National Government mostly carried on the sweeping free-market reforms of the Fourth Labour Government known as Rogernomics, after Labour's finance minister Sir Roger Douglas. The corporatisation and sale of numerous state-owned enterprises, the abolishment of collective bargaining and major government spending cuts were introduced under the Fourth National Government, policies that were popularly known as Ruthanasia (National's finance minister at the time was Ruth Richardson. Sweeping social reform was also introduced, and the introduction of mixed-member proportional representation effectively leading to the end of what had been a de facto two-party system. The Treaty settlement process began under this government.

Following a moderate Fifth Labour Government, the Fifth National Government of New Zealand took power in 2008 under John Key. Historically, the National Party has tended to take a social conservative position on most political issues, though more recently in certain hot button issues they have taken a more social liberal stance. For instance they extended free general practitioner visits to children under 13 as part of their 2014 election package, as well as extending paid parental leave by two weeks to 16 weeks.[10] In the 2015 Budget National announced the first increase to the benefit – except for inflation – since 1972, of up to $25 extra per week for families.

In the most recent general election, in 2014, the National Party ran a campaign focusing on stability.[10] They promised to limit new spending every year (to $1.5 billion), to not introduce any new taxes, and to improve the performance of public service organisations by setting performance-based 'Public Service Targets'. They also campaigned on the possibility of moderate tax cuts within the next few years and are generally in favour of free-trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.



The National Party was formed in May 1936, but its roots go considerably further back. The party came about as the result of a merger between the United Party (known as the Liberal Party until 1927, except for a short period between 1925 and 1927 when it used the name "National Party") and the Reform Party.[6] The United Party gained its main support from the cities, and drew upon businesses for money and upon middle class electors for votes,[11] while the Reform Party had a rural base and received substantial support from farmers,[12] who then formed a substantial proportion of the population.

Liberal Party (1890)
Reform Party (1909)
United Party (1927)Independents (1931)
National Party (1936)

Historically, the Liberal and Reform parties had competed against each other, but from 1931 until 1935 a United-Reform Coalition held power in New Zealand.[13] The coalition went into the 1935 election under the title of the "National Political Federation", a name adopted to indicate that the grouping intended to represent New Zealanders from all backgrounds (in contrast to the previous situation, where United served city-dwellers and Reform served farmers). However, because of the effects of the Great Depression and a perception that the existing coalition government had handled the situation poorly, the National Political Federation lost heavily in 1935 to the Labour Party, the rise of which had prompted the alliance. The two parties were cut down to 19 seats between them. Another factor was a third party, the Democrat Party formed by Albert Davy, a former organiser for the coalition who disapproved of the "socialist" measures that the coalition had introduced. The new party split the conservative vote and aided Labour's victory.

In hopes of countering Labour's rise, United and Reform decided to turn their alliance into a single party. This party, the New Zealand National Party, was formed at a meeting held in Wellington on 13 and 14 May 1936. Erstwhile members of the United and Reform parties made up the bulk of the new party. The United Party's last leader, George Forbes, Prime Minister from 1930 until 1935, opened the conference; he served as Leader of the Opposition from May until November, when former Reform MP Adam Hamilton was elected the first leader. Hamilton led the party into its first election in 1938. He got the top job primarily because of a compromise between Forbes and Reform leader Gordon Coates, neither of whom wished to serve under the other. Hamilton, however, failed to counter Labour's popular Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage effectively. Because of this, perceptions that he remained too much under the control of Coates and because he lacked real support from his party colleagues, Hamilton failed to prevent Labour's re-election in 1938.

In 1940 Sidney Holland replaced Hamilton. William Polson "acted effectively as Holland's deputy" (Gustafson). One former Reform MP Herbert Kyle resigned in 1942 in protest at the "autocratic" behaviour of Holland and the new party organisation.

In the 1943 election Labour's majority was reduced, but it remained in power. In the 1946 election, National also failed to unseat Labour. However, in the 1949 election, thirteen years after the party's foundation, National finally won power, and Holland became Prime Minister.

First National Government (1949–1957)

Sidney Holland was the first National Prime Minister, 1949–1957.

In 1949 National had campaigned on "the private ownership of production, distribution and exchange". Once in power the new Holland Government proved decidedly administratively conservative, retaining, for instance, the welfare state set up by the previous Labour Government; though National gained, and has largely kept, a reputation for showing more favour to farmers and to business than did the Labour Party.

In 1951 the Waterfront Dispute broke out, lasting 151 days. The National government stepped into the conflict, acting in opposition to the maritime unions. Holland also used this opportunity to call the 1951 snap election. Campaigning on an anti-Communist platform and exploiting the Labour Opposition's apparent indecisiveness, National returned with an increased majority, gaining 54 parliamentary seats out of 80.

In the 1954 election, National was elected to a third term, though losing some of its seats. Towards the end of his third term, however, Holland became increasingly ill, and stepped down from the leadership shortly before the general election in 1957. Keith Holyoake, the party's long-standing deputy leader, took Holland's place. Holyoake, however, had insufficient time to establish himself in the public mind as Prime Minister, and lost in the election later that year to Labour, then led by Walter Nash.

Second National Government (1960–1972)

Keith Holyoake, Prime Minister 1957 and 1960–1972.

Nash's government became very unpopular as Labour acquired a reputation for poor economic management, and much of the public saw its 1958 Budget, known since as the "Black Budget", as miserly.[14] After only one term in office, Labour suffered defeat at the hands of Holyoake and the National Party in the elections of 1960.

Holyoake's government lasted twelve years, the Party gaining re-election three times (in 1963, 1966, and 1969). However, this period Social Credit arose, which broke the National/Labour duopoly in parliament, winning former National seats from 1966. Holyoake retired from the Prime Ministership and from the Party leadership at the beginning of 1972, and his deputy, Jack Marshall, replaced him.

Marshall suffered the same fate as Holyoake. Having succeeded an experienced leader in an election-year, he failed to establish himself in time. Marshall had an added disadvantage; he had to compete against the much more popular and charismatic Norman Kirk, then leader of the Labour Party, and lost the ensuing election. Unpopular policies, including initiating clear felling of parts of the Warawara kauri forest, also needlessly alienated voters.{Adams 1980}

Third National Government (1975–1984)

Sir Robert Muldoon, Prime Minister 1975–1984

Within two years the Party removed Marshall as its parliamentary leader and replaced him with Robert Muldoon, who had previously served as Minister of Finance. An intense contest between Kirk and Muldoon followed. Kirk became ill and died in office (1974); his successor, Bill Rowling, proved no match for Muldoon, and in the 1975 election, National under Muldoon returned comfortably to power.

The Muldoon administration, which favoured interventionist economic policies, arouses mixed opinions amongst the free-market adherents of the modern National. Bill Birch's "Think Big" initiatives, designed to invest public money in energy self-sufficiency, stand in contrast to the Party's contemporary views. Muldoon's autocratic leadership style became increasingly unpopular with both the public and the Party, and together with disgruntlement over economic policy led to an attempted leadership change in 1980. Led by ministers Derek Quigley, Jim McLay, and Jim Bolger, the challenge (dubbed the "colonels' coup") against Muldoon aimed to replace him with Brian Talboys, his deputy. However, the plan collapsed as the result of Talboys' unwillingness, and Muldoon kept his position.

A former National Party logo

Under Muldoon, National won three consecutive general elections in 1975, 1978 and 1981. However, public dissatisfaction grew, and Muldoon's controlling and belligerent style of leadership became less and less appealing. In both the 1978 and 1981 elections, National gained fewer votes than the Labour opposition, but could command a small majority in Parliament because of the then-used First Past the Post electoral system.

Dissent within the National Party continued to grow, however, with rebel National MPs Marilyn Waring and Mike Minogue causing particular concern to the leadership, threatening National's thin majority in parliament. When, in 1984, Marilyn Waring refused to support Muldoon's policies on visits by nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed ships, Muldoon called a snap election. Muldoon made the television announcement of this election while visibly inebriated, and some believe that he later regretted the decision to "go to the country". National lost the election to Labour under David Lange.

Fourth National Government (1990–1999)

Jim Bolger, Prime Minister 1990–1997.

Shortly after this loss, the Party removed Muldoon from the leadership. Jim McLay, who had replaced Brian Talboys as deputy leader shortly before the election, became the new leader. McLay, an urban liberal with right wing views on economics, however, failed to restore the party's fortunes. In 1986 Jim Bolger took over the leadership with the support of centrists within the party.

In the 1990 election National defeated Labour in an electoral landslide and formed a new government under Jim Bolger. However, the Party lost some support from Muldoon era policy based conservatives when it continued the economic reforms which had ultimately led to the defeat of the previous Labour government—these policies, started by Labour Party Finance Minister Roger Douglas and popularly known as Rogernomics, centred on the privatization of state assets and on the removal of tariffs and subsidies. These policies alienated traditional Labour supporters, who saw them as a betrayal of the party's social service based character, but did not appear to appease the membership base of the non-parliamentary National party either, which still had a significant supporter base for the statist intervention style policies of the Muldoon Government.

Many more conservative and centrist National supporters preferred Muldoon's more authoritarian and interventionist policies over the free-market liberalism promoted by Douglas. However, the new National Party Finance Minister, Ruth Richardson, strongly supported Rogernomics, believing that Douglas had not gone far enough. (See Ruthanasia.) Her policies encouraged two National MPs to leave the National Party and form the New Zealand Liberal Party (1992). Richardson's views also met with considerable opposition within the National Party Parliamentary Caucus and for a time caused damage to the party's membership base.

At the 1993 election, National was narrowly able to secure its position in government due partly to a strongly recovering economy, after its large majority disappeared and the country faced an election night hung parliament—National one seat short of the required 50 seats to govern. With special votes counted in the following days, National won Waitaki, allowing it to form a government but requiring the election of a Speaker from the opposition benches (Peter Tapsell of the Labour Party) to hold a working majority in the House. At the same time as the election, however, a referendum took place which established the MMP electoral system for future use in New Zealand general elections. This would have a significant impact on New Zealand politics. Some National Party MPs defected to a new grouping, United New Zealand in mid-1995. And as a result of the new electoral mechanics, the New Zealand First Party, led by former National MP and former Cabinet minister Winston Peters, held the balance of power after the 1996 election. After a prolonged period of negotiation lasting nearly two months, in which New Zealand First played National and Labour off against each other (both parties negotiated complete coalition agreements), New Zealand First entered into a coalition with National.

Under the coalition agreement, Peters became Deputy Prime Minister and had the post of Treasurer especially created by the Crown for him. New Zealand First extracted a number of other concessions from National in exchange for its support. The influence of New Zealand First angered many National MPs, particularly Jenny Shipley.

Jenny Shipley, Prime Minister 1997–1999.

When, in 1997, Shipley toppled Bolger to become National's new leader, relations between National and its coalition partner deteriorated. After Shipley sacked Peters from Cabinet in 1998, the New Zealand First party split into two groups and half the MPs followed Peters out of the coalition but the remainder broke away, establishing themselves as independents or as members of new parties of which none survived the 1999 election. From the latter group National gained enough support to continue in government with additional confidence support of Alamein Kopu a defect Alliance List MP. The visibly damaged National Government managed to survive the parliamentary term, but lost the election to Labour's Helen Clark and the Alliance's Jim Anderton, who formed a coalition government.

Opposition (1999–2008)

Shipley continued to lead the National Party until 2001, when Bill English replaced her. English, however, proved unable to gain traction against Clark, and National suffered its worst-ever electoral defeat in the 2002 election, gaining only 27 of 120 seats.[15] Many hoped that English would succeed in rebuilding the party, given time, but a year later polling showed the party performing only slightly better than in the election. In October 2003 English gave way as leader to Don Brash, a former governor of the Reserve Bank who had joined the National Parliamentary caucus in the 2002 election.

Under Dr Brash, the National Party's overall popularity with voters improved markedly. Mostly, however, the party achieved this by "reclaiming" support from electors who voted for other centre-right parties in 2002. National's campaigning on race relations, amid claims of preferential treatment of Māori, and amid their opposition to Labour Party policy during the foreshore-and-seabed controversy, generated considerable publicity and much controversy. Strong campaigning on a tax-cuts theme in the lead-up to the 2005 election, together with a consolidation of centre-right support, may have contributed to the National Party's winning 48 out of 121 seats in Parliament. National, however, remained the second-largest party in Parliament (marginally behind Labour, which gained 50 seats), and had fewer options for forming a coalition government. With the formation of a new Labour-dominated Government, National remained the major Opposition party.

John Key, Prime Minister 2008  present.

After the 2005 election defeat Don Brash's leadership of National came under scrutiny from the media, and political watchers speculated on the prospect of a leadership-challenge before the next general election due in 2008. Don Brash resigned on 23 November 2006, immediately before the release of Nicky Hager's book The Hollow Men, which contained damaging revelations obtained from private emails. John Key became the leader of the National caucus on 27 November 2006. Key fostered a more "centrist" image, discussing issues such as child poverty.

Fifth National Government (2008–present)

On 8 November 2008 the National Party, led by John Key, won 58 seats in the general election. The Labour Party, which had spent three terms in power, conceded the election and on 19 November the Governor-General swore in a new government: a centre-right coalition of the National Party, the ACT Party, led by Rodney Hide, which won 5 seats, the Maori Party, and the United Future Party.

After the election John Key entered into talks with the Maori Party even though he and his existing coalition partners commanded a majority. As of 2011 the National Government consists of National (58 seats), Act (5), the Maori Party (5) and United Future's Peter Dunne. As of 2011 the National Government has 69 seats in a 121-seat Parliament. In Key's first cabinet he gave the Act Party's Rodney Hide and Heather Roy seats outside cabinet and the Maori Party's Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples the same. Peter Dunne also received back the ministerial post outside cabinet which he had held within the immediately preceding Labour Government.

At the 26 November 2011 general election, National gained 47.31% of the party vote, the highest percentage gained by any political party since MMP was introduced, helped by a lower voter turnout and the misfortunes of its traditional support parties. However, a reduced wasted vote enabled the party to gain 59 seats in Parliament, only one more than 2008. National re-entered coalition agreements with ACT and with United Future's Peter Dunne to form a minority government with 61 seats in the new 121-seat Parliament. National also re-entered a coalition agreement with the Maori Party for extra reinsurance, despite both parties having differing view on National's contentious plans to partially sell (or "extend the mixed ownership model to") four state-owned enterprises. This nearly led to a cancellation of the agreement in February 2012 over Treaty of Waitangi obligations for the mixed ownership companies, and again in July 2012 over water rights.

John Key announced his resignation as New Zealand's Prime Minister and the leader of the National Party on 5 December 2016.[16]


National features both regional and electorate-level organisational structures. National traditionally had a strongly decentralised organisation, designed to allow electorates and the five regions to appeal to the unique voter base in their area. However, in light of the 2002 election result, a review of the party organisation resulted in decisions to weaken the regional structure and to implement a more centralised structure in order to make the structure more 'appropriate' for the new mixed member proportional electoral system.[17] The Party President (currently Peter Goodfellow) heads the administration outside of National's current sitting MPs.

The party's youth wing, the Young Nationals, commonly known as the Young Nats, has provided much political impetus as a ginger group.

Two other ideology specific groups exist in National. The Bluegreens are a group within National who help formulate green environmental policy.[18] Many members of Caucus hold membership with the Bluegreens. The Blue Liberals are a national group dedicated to promoting more economically liberal free market policies.[19]


National started as a movement balanced between urban and rural interests. It has appealed consistently to country and upper middle class voters. At the 2005 election, the Party narrowly won more votes than the New Zealand Labour Party in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, and in the northern cities of Hamilton and Tauranga while winning almost all of the rural and provincial electoral seats. Meanwhile, the rival Labour Party won considerably more votes in the urban electorate seats of Christchurch and Dunedin.

Electoral results

Election # of party votes % of party vote # of seats
1938[20] 381,081 40.30
25 / 80
1943[20] 402,887 42.78
34 / 80
1946 507,139 48.43
38 / 80
1949 556,805 51.88
46 / 80
1951 577,630 53.99
50 / 80
1954 485,630 44.27
45 / 80
1957 511,699 44.21
39 / 80
1960 557,046 47.59
46 / 80
1963 563,875 47.12
45 / 80
1966 525,945 43.64
44 / 80
1969 605,960 45.22
45 / 84
1972 581,422 41.50
32 / 87
1975 763,136 47.59
55 / 87
1978 680,991 39.82
51 / 92
1981 698,508 38.77
47 / 92
1984 692,494 35.89
37 / 95
1987 806,305 44.02
40 / 97
1990 872,358 47.82
67 / 97
1993 673,892 35.05
50 / 99
Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system since 1996
1996 701,315 33.87
44 / 120
Government (coalition)
1999 629,932 30.50
39 / 120
2002[15] 425,310 20.93
27 / 120
2005 889,813 39.10
48 / 121
2008 1,053,398 44.93
58 / 122
Government (minority)
2011 1,058,638 47.31
59 / 121
2014 1,131,501 47.04
60 / 121

Parliamentary leaders

  National   Labour
PM: Prime Minister
LO: Leader of the Opposition

No. Leader Portrait Term of Office Position Prime Minister
1 Adam Hamilton 2 November 1936 26 November 1940 LO 1936–1940 Savage
2 Sidney Holland 26 November 1940 20 September 1957 LO 1940–1949 Fraser
PM 1949–1957 Holland
3 Keith Holyoake 20 September 1957 7 February 1972 PM 1957 Holyoake
LO 1957–1960 Nash
PM 1960–1972 Holyoake
4 Jack Marshall 7 February 1972 4 July 1974 PM 1972 Marshall
LO 1972–1974 Kirk
5 Robert Muldoon 4 July 1974 29 November 1984 LO 1974–1975 Rowling
PM 1975–1984 Muldoon
LO 1984 Lange
6 Jim McLay 29 November 1984 26 March 1986 LO 1984–1986
7 Jim Bolger 26 March 1986 8 December 1997 LO 1986–1990
PM 1990–1997 Bolger
8 Jenny Shipley 8 December 1997 8 October 2001 PM 1997–1999 Shipley
LO 1999–2001 Clark
9 Bill English 8 October 2001 28 October 2003 LO 2001–2003
10 Don Brash 28 October 2003 27 November 2006 LO 2003–2006
11 John Key 27 November 2006 12 December 2016 LO 2006–2008
PM 2008–2016 Key
12 TBD TBD 12 December 2016 - PM 2016- TBD

Deputy leaders

Name Term
William Polson 1940–1946
Keith Holyoake 1946–1957
Jack Marshall 1957–1972
Robert Muldoon 1972–1974
Brian Talboys 1974–1981
Duncan MacIntyre 1981–1984
Jim McLay 1984
Jim Bolger 1984–1986
George Gair 1986–1987
Don McKinnon 1987–1997
Wyatt Creech 1997–2001
Bill English 2001
Roger Sowry 2001–2003
Nick Smith 2003
Gerry Brownlee 2003–2006
Bill English 2006–present

Party presidents

Name Term
Sir George Wilson 1936
Colonel Claude Weston 1936–1940
Alex Gordon 1940–1944
Sir Wilfred Sim 1944–1951
Sir Alex McKenzie 1951–1962
John S. Meadowcroft 1962–1966
Edward Durning (Ned) Holt 1966–1973
Sir George Chapman 1973–1982
Sue Wood 1982–1986
Neville Young 1986–1989
John Collinge 1989–1994
Lindsay Tisch 1994
Geoff Thompson 1994–1998
John Slater 1998–2001
Michelle Boag 2001–2002
Judy Kirk 2002–2009
Peter Goodfellow 2009–present

Short biographies of all presidents up to Sue Wood appear in Barry Gustafson's The First Fifty Years.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 "National Party: Party principles". The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 30 August 2016. Usually the conservative and liberal tendencies have been central
  2. My library My History Books on Google Play New Zealand Investment and Business Guide Volume 1 Strategic and Practical Information. IBP, Inc. 2015. p. 32.
  3. 1 2 "NZ National Party Website meta-description". New Zealand National Party Website meta-description. New Zealand. Retrieved 5 August 2013. The National Party is New Zealand's largest Centre-Right political Party, led by John Key. National primarily targets conservative and classic liberal voters.
  4. 1 2 "New Zealand's center-right National Party wins election". CNN. 20 September 2014. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  5. "Regional Partners". AECR. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  6. 1 2 Raymond, Miller (2005). Party Politics in New Zealand. Australia: Oxford University Press. p. 32.
  7. Keith Holyoake, New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, 14 July 1959, vol. 319, p. 406.
  8. National's Vision For New Zealand
  9. Gustafson, Barry (1 October 2013). "His Way: a Biography of Robert Muldoon". Auckland University Press. Retrieved 25 November 2016.
  10. 1 2 "Election 2014: Nats' promises to you". New Zealand Herald. 2014-09-21. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  11. Miller, Raymond (2005). Party Politics in New Zealand. Australia: Oxford University Press. pp. 28–31.
  12. Miller, Raymond (2005). Party Politics in New Zealand. Australia: Oxford University Press. p. 29.
  13. Miller, Raymond (2005). Party Politics in New Zealand. Australia: Oxford University Press. pp. 31–32.
  14. Brian Roper (1993). State and economy in New Zealand. Oxford U.P. p. 204.
  15. 1 2 "Official Count Results – Overall Status". Electoral Commission. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  16. "New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announces resignation". 5 December 2016. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
  17. Stephens, Gregory R. Electoral Reform and the Centralisation of the New Zealand National Party, MA thesis, Victoria University of Wellington
  18. "Bluegreens". 2011. Retrieved 27 August 2011.
  19. "Blue Libs".
  20. 1 2 "General elections 1853–2005 – dates & turnout". Elections New Zealand. Retrieved 12 January 2011.

Further reading

External links

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