New Zealand Labour Party

The New Zealand Labour Party (Māori: Rōpū Reipa o Aotearoa),[10] or simply Labour (Reipa),[11] is a centre-left political party in New Zealand.[5] The party's platform programme describes its founding principle as democratic socialism,[12][13] while observers describe Labour as social-democratic and pragmatic in practice.[2][3] The party participates in the international Progressive Alliance.[8]

New Zealand Labour Party
Rōpū Reipa o Aotearoa
PresidentClaire Szabó
General SecretaryRob Salmond[1]
LeaderJacinda Ardern
Deputy LeaderKelvin Davis
Founded7 July 1916; 105 years ago
Merger ofSocial Democratic Party
United Labour Party
HeadquartersFraser House, 160–162 Willis St, Wellington 6011
Youth wingYoung Labour
LGBT+ wingRainbow Labour
IdeologySocial democracy[2][3]
Democratic socialism[4]
Political positionCentre-left[5][6][7]
International affiliationProgressive Alliance[8]
Colours  Red
Slogan"Let's Keep Moving"[9]
MPs in the House of Representatives
65 / 120

The New Zealand Labour Party formed in 1916 out of various socialist parties and trade unions. It is the country's oldest political party still in existence.[14] Alongside its main rival, the New Zealand National Party, Labour has alternated in leading governments of New Zealand since the 1930s.[15] As of 2020, there have been six periods of Labour government under ten Labour prime ministers.

The party first came to power under prime ministers Michael Joseph Savage and Peter Fraser from 1935 to 1949, 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 party 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 again became the largest party from 1999 to 2008, when it governed in coalition with, or based on negotiated support from, several minor parties; Helen Clark became the first Labour prime minister to lead her government through the third term in office.

Following the 2008 general election, Labour 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.[16] On 19 October 2017, Labour formed a minority coalition government with New Zealand First, with confidence and supply from the Green Party. In the 2020 general election, Labour won in a landslide, winning an overall majority of 10 and 50.01% of the vote. Jacinda Ardern currently serves as the party leader and prime minister, while Kelvin Davis is the deputy leader.


On 7 July 1916 in Wellington the founding of the New Zealand Labour Party,[14] brought 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.[17] Despite the Party's Wellington origins, the West Coast town of Blackball is often regarded as the birthplace of the party,[18] 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, trade unions; in practice, Labour Party politicians regard themselves as part of a broader labour movement and tradition.[19][failed verification]

Formation (1901–1916)

The New Zealand Labour Party was an amalgamation of a number of earlier 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.[20]

At the turn of the 20th century, the radical side of New Zealand working class politics was represented by the Socialist Party, founded in 1901. The more moderate leftists generally supported the Liberal Party.[21] In 1905 a group of working-class politicians who were dissatisfied with the Liberal approach established the Independent Political Labour League,[22] which managed to win a seat in Parliament in the 1908 election.[23][24] 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.[25]

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 that 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.[25]

Soon afterward, the labour movement went through the 1912 Waihi miners' strike, a major industrial disturbance prompted by radicals in the union movement.[26] The movement split over supporting or opposing the radicals, and in the end, the conservative Reform Party 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 labour movement and to establish a united front. Accordingly, Walter Thomas Mills organised another Unity Conference, and this time the Socialists attended.[26] 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 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 oppose Reform better and to differentiate themselves from the Liberals.[27] A year later yet another gathering took place. This time, all major factions of the labour movement agreed to unite, establishing the modern Labour Party.[28]

Electoral record of constituent parties pre-1916 Labour

Term Electorate Party Elected MPs
1908–1910 17th Wellington East Ind. Labour League David McLaren
1910–1911 Changed allegiance to: Labour
1911–1912 18th Wellington South Labour Alfred Hindmarsh
1912–1914 Changed allegiance to: United Labour
1914–1916 19th Wellington South United Labour
1911–1914 18th Grey Lynn Labour John Payne
1914–1916 19th Grey Lynn Independent Labour
1916 Changed allegiance to: Independent
1911–1913 18th Otaki Labour John Robertson
1913–1914 Changed allegiance to: Social Democrat
1911–1912 18th Wanganui Independent Labour Bill Veitch
1912–1914 Changed allegiance to: United Labour
1914–1916 19th Wanganui United Labour
1916 Changed 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 (1916–1935)

Almost immediately, the new Labour Party became involved in the acrimonious debate about conscription which arose during World War I (1914–1918) – the Labour Party strongly opposed conscription,[29] several leading members – Peter Fraser, Harry Holland, Bob Semple and Paddy Webb – were jailed and expelled from Parliament for their stand against the war.[30] The loss of leadership threatened to seriously destabilise the party, but the party survived.[30] (Fraser, Semple and Webb later supported conscription in World War II.[30])

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.[31] The eight seats compared with 47 for the governing Reform Party and 21 for the Liberal Party.[32]

Although Labour had split with its more militant faction (which 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 proved unpopular with voters, and Labour dropped it, along with other more radical policies, in the course of the 1920s.[25]

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. Labour leader 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) tied with 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 (1912–1928) of Reform Party government.[33]

In the early 1930s 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. Harry Holland died in 1933 and his deputy, Michael Joseph Savage, became the Labour Party parliamentary leader. 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, Hugh Watt, Jim Edwards and Dorothy Jelicich.

First Government (1935–1949)

Michael Joseph Savage, 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 setting up the state housing scheme.[34] Workers also benefited from the introduction of the forty-hour week, and legislation making it easier for unions to negotiate on their behalf.[35] Savage himself was highly popular with the working classes, and his portrait could be found on walls in many houses around the country.[36] At this time the Labour Party pursued an alliance with the Māori Rātana movement.[37]

The parliamentary opposition, meanwhile, attacked the Labour Party's more left-wing policies and accused it of undermining free enterprise and hard work. In May 1936, months after Labour's first general election win, the Reform Party and the United Party took their coalition to the next step, agreeing to merge with each other. The combined organisation, named the National Party, would be Labour's main rival in future years.[38]

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

Labour also faced opposition within its own ranks. While the Labour Party had been explicitly socialist at its inception, it had gradually drifted 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, the Party expelled Lee from the party, who then established his own breakaway Democratic Labour Party.[39]

Savage died in 1940 and Peter Fraser, who became Labour's longest-serving prime minister, replaced him. Fraser became best-known as New Zealand's Head of Government 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. Eventually, in the 1949 election, Labour suffered electoral defeat.[40]

Fraser died shortly afterward, and was replaced by Walter Nash, the long-serving Minister of Finance.[41] It would 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.[42] In the 1957 election, however, Labour won a narrow majority of two seats, and returned to office.

Second Government (1957–1960)

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.[43] This resulted in the highly unpopular 1958 "Black Budget" of Arnold Nordmeyer, the new Minister of Finance, which raised taxes on alcohol, cigarettes, cars, and petrol.[44] It is widely thought[by whom?] to have doomed the party to defeat despite the economy rejuvenating less than a year after the adoption of the Black Budget.[44] In the 1960 election, the National Party returned to power.

Leader Norman Kirk opening Labour's election campaign in 1966

The elderly Nash retired in 1963, suffering from ill health.[45] Nordmeyer replaced him, 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 went to the younger Norman Kirk, who many believed would revitalise the party. Labour suffered defeat again in the next two elections, but in the 1972 election, the party gained a significant majority over its rival.

Third Government (1972–1975)

Kirk proved 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. However, Kirk suffered from poor health, worsened by his refusal to slow the pace of his work. In 1974 Kirk was taken ill and died. Bill Rowling replaced him, but did not have the same electoral appeal – in the 1975 election, Labour lost to the National Party, then led by Robert Muldoon.[46]

Rowling remained the 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[by whom?] unfavourably to Muldoon, and did not cope well with Muldoon's aggressive style. In 1983 Rowling was replaced as parliamentary leader by David Lange, whom the parliamentary caucus perceived as more charismatic.[47] In the snap election of 1984, Labour defeated the National Party.

Fourth Government (1984–1990)

The free-market policies of David Lange's government deviated sharply from those of 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.[48] 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 New Zealand dollar, which Muldoon refused to do, resulting in a constitutional crisis and precipitating some of the changes in the Constitution Act 1986.[49]

The economic-policy agenda of the Fourth Labour Government differed significantly from previous Labour governments. The Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas, supported free-market theories, and sought to implement sweeping reforms ("Rogernomics") to the economy and to the tax system.[50][51] This involved floating the New Zealand dollar, cutting government spending, reducing taxes and removing almost all industry subsidies.[51] The government also revolutionised New Zealand's foreign policy, making the country a nuclear-free zone,[52] and effectively leaving[citation needed] the ANZUS alliance. Labour liberalised immigration policy and promoted migration from Asia.[53]

Other innovations during the term of the Fourth Labour Government included extending the jurisdiction of the Waitangi Tribunal back to 1840 (the date of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi); the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986, which legalised homosexual relations; and the Bill of Rights Act, which enumerated civil and political rights. Throughout its first term (1984–1987), the Labour government remained largely unified behind the enacted radical financial, economic and social policy reforms, but early signs of dissension began to appear before the 1987 election.[54]

In 1987 Labour won another considerable election victory against the National Party, while ruptures over the direction of policy remained concealed. Despite taking votes from affluent areas, Labour suffered negative swings in more traditional seats, while the blue-ribbon seat of Remuera nearly fell into the Labour column. The government's second term (1987–1990), with an increased Labour majority won mostly[quantify] on the back of Lange's anti-nuclear stance, saw emerging divisions over economic policy arising within Cabinet.[55] Ministers debated the extent and pace of further reforms, and there was a rebellion among party members[citation needed] and disillusion among Labour voters.[citation needed] The Council of Trade Unions criticised the Labour Party. One vocal Member of Parliament critical of government policy, Jim Anderton, left the Party to establish the NewLabour Party, which later became a part of the left-wing Alliance Party.[55][56] At the same time Roger Douglas and Lange fought intermittent battles inside Cabinet, with Douglas wanting to expand his economic programme dramatically. Lange strongly opposed a flat-tax proposal from Douglas and moved to sack him, resulting in political clashes throughout 1988 and the departure of Douglas from the Cabinet in December 1988. After the Labour Caucus re-elected Douglas to Cabinet on 3 August 1989, Lange resigned from office himself (8 August 1989), interpreting Douglas's reappointment as a vote of no confidence in his leadership.[57]

Geoffrey Palmer became the new Labour Prime Minister.[57] However, Palmer failed to rebuild the shattered remnants of Lange's government and in September 1990, Mike Moore replaced him. Despite Moore's ascension somewhat salvaging poll-ratings, Labour suffered its worst defeat since it first took office in 1935 (losing twenty-eight seats) – voters flung the Party into the political wilderness with an election landslide loss.[56] National swept to power, seemingly repudiating the Lange/Douglas program, but then engaged in even more radical policies than Labour had contemplated. Political disillusionment caused by both governments proved decisive[citation needed] in the later adoption of mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) in 1993 (implemented in 1996).

Moore himself, despite recovering sixteen seats at the 1993 election, was replaced by Helen Clark in December 1993. Clark led the party in opposition to the National government for six years under the administrations of Bolger (1993–1997) and Shipley (1997–1999). During this period in opposition, the party made a measured repudiation of Rogernomics, although it has never returned to its original leftist roots (Labour's 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 formed a coalition arrangement with the National Party. Despite initially appearing coherent, the coalition became increasingly unstable and eventually collapsed, leaving the National Party to govern as a minority government from 1998 to 1999.

Fifth Government (1999–2008)

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.[58] This government, while undertaking a number of reforms, was not particularly radical when compared to previous Labour governments,[citation needed] and maintained a high level of popularity. The Alliance, however, fell in popularity and split internally. Clark cited the Alliance split as one of the reasons for calling the 2002 election several months early; Labour won comfortably.[59]

Policies of the Fifth Labour Government included the KiwiSaver scheme,[60] the Working for Families package, increasing the minimum wage 5% a year, interest-free student loans, the establishment of District Health Boards, the introduction of a number of tax credits, overhauling the secondary-school qualifications system by introducing the NCEA, and the introduction of fourteen weeks' parental leave.[61] Labour also supported the Civil Union Act 2004, which legalised civil unions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples.[62]

In early 2004 Labour came under attack in the foreshore and seabed controversy.[63] Significant internal tensions within the party eventually culminated in the resignation of junior minister Tariana Turia and her establishment of the new Māori Party.[64]

Party logo in 2008

Following the 2005 election, Labour formed a coalition with the Progressive Party (breakaway party of the old Alliance), and entered into complex confidence and supply agreements with the centrist United Future and New Zealand First parties, which gave each party's leader a ministerial portfolio, while the support parties remained outside the Cabinet. A limited support agreement also linked Labour with the Green Party, giving certain policy concessions to the Greens in return for abstention on confidence-and-supply votes. Labour lost power when the National Party soundly defeated it in the 2008 election.

In opposition (2008–2017)

Then-leader Phil Goff with current leader Jacinda Ardern and Carol Beaumont at a 2010 anti-mining march in Auckland

Following the loss to the National Party in the November 2008 election, Helen Clark stood down as leader of the party[65]Phil Goff succeeded her (2008–2011).[66] Labour had a relatively high turnover of four leaders during its most recent term in opposition; this has been attributed[by whom?] in part to changes within public media and the political environment.[67] Goff led Labour into a second electoral defeat in 2011 and was succeeded by David Shearer, who led the Labour parliamentary from 2011 to 2013.[68] Shearer resigned after losing the confidence of caucus. The Labour MPs elected David Cunliffe (2013–2014) in the 2013 leadership election.[69] Some[quantify] factions within the Labour caucus disliked Cunliffe, but he had strong support from the party membership. In the leadership contest he won first-preference votes from only one-third of Labour MPs.[70] Cunliffe's tenure as leader quickly became mired in internal disputes and falling poll-ratings. Labour went on to suffer its worst electoral reversal since 1922 at the 2014 election, Cunliffe opted to resign after initially wishing to re-contest the leadership. His replacement, Andrew Little (2014–2017), then resigned in 2017 following new polling showing the party sinking to a record low result of 24%, with internal voices hoping that rising star Jacinda Ardern would takeover in his stead.[71] The caucus confirmed Jacinda Ardern as the new Labour leader (2017–present).[71][72]

After Ardern's election to its parliamentary 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.[73]

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.[16]

On 19 October 2017, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters announced that his party would form a coalition government with Labour,[74] citing changing international and internal economic circumstances as the reasoning behind his decision,[75] 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.[76] This coalition, combined with confidence and supply from the Green Party,[77] saw Labour return to government for the first time since 2008. Ardern became Prime Minister, with Peters as her deputy.[78] The Labour government pledged to eliminate child poverty, make tertiary education free, reduce immigration by 20,000 to 30,000, decriminalise abortion, and make all rivers swimmable within 10 years.[76]

In mid-July 2020, the Serious Fraud Office announced that it was investigating donations made to the Labour Party by two Chinese businessmen during the 2017 general election. Labour Party President Claire Szabó announced that the party would co-operate with the investigation.[79][80]

In the 2020 election, Labour gained 50% of the party vote and increased its presence in the House of Representatives to 65 seats, marking the first time that a party has won enough seats to govern alone since the introduction of the MMP system in 1996. Described as a "landslide" victory[81] in which the party won the party vote in "virtually every single electorate", Labour is believed[by whom?] to have gained support from swing voters, many of whom had previously voted for National under John Key.[82][83][84] Despite this landslide victory Labour faced increasing criticism[by whom?] due to their lack of action on New Zealand's housing issues despite it being a key feature of their 2017 election campaign.[85]


The New Zealand Labour Party's founding 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.[3] 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.[2][3][86] 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.[87]

The party's platform programme describes its founding principle as democratic socialism,[12][88] while observers describe Labour as social-democratic and pragmatic in practice.[2][3] From the 1990s onwards, 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.[3] Subsequently, the party has also been described as embracing certain social-liberal policies.[89][90]


According to its current constitution, the party accepts democratic socialist principles, including:[91]

  • The management of New Zealand's natural resources for the benefit of all, including future generations.
  • Equal access to all social, economic, cultural, political, and legal spheres, regardless of wealth or social position.
  • Co-operation as the main governing factor in economic relations, to ensure a just distribution of wealth.
  • Universal rights to dignity, self-respect, and the opportunity to work.
  • The right to wealth and property, subject to the provisos of regarding people as always more important than property and the obligations of the state to ensure a just distribution of wealth.
  • Honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi / the Treaty of Waitangi as the founding document of New Zealand.
  • The promotion of peace and social justice throughout the world by international co-operation.
  • Equality in human rights regardless of race, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religious faith, political belief or disability.

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).[3] 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).[92][93]


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.[94] 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).[94] Influential branches include Princes Street Labour (this Auckland university branch is described as the "ideological powerhouse of the party",[95] and has contributed many prominent Labour politicians) and Vic Labour (the Victoria University of Wellington branch).[96]

Labour Party membership, 1917–2002[97]

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 economic policies of the Fourth Labour Government ("Rogernomics"). Membership figures began to recover under Helen Clark's leadership, with 14,000 members recorded in 2002.[98]

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.[94] The party is divided into six regional areas, which each year convene a Regional Conference.[99] Policy and other matters are debated and passed onto the Annual Conference.[94]

The Annual Conference (called Congress in election years) 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.[94]

The New Zealand Council is the Labour Party's governing executive.[99] 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.[94]

The Policy Council, responsible for the development of the policy platform and election manifesto,[12] 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.[94]

Caucus and parliamentary leadership

Leader Jacinda Ardern with party members at a 2017 Labour election campaign event

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.[100] 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.[94] Some observers[who?] have criticised the influence of the unions in leadership elections.[101]

Affiliated trade unions

In the first decades of the 20th century, manufacturing 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.[101] These unions are the following:

In addition, the president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions continues to speak at the Labour Party Annual Conference.[103]

Young Labour

Young Labour is the party's youth wing. It exists to organise young members (under 26[104]) 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".[105]

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.[106][107] 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.[108]

Local government

As of 2019, the 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 27 elected Labour Party community board members across Auckland, while City Vision holds 14 seats.[citation needed]

In New Plymouth, former MP Harry Duynhoven served as mayor from 2010 to 2013, when 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 10 community board seats, seven council seats, and several community board chairmanships.

Wellington has three Labour Party councillors: Fleur Fitzsimons – Southern Ward councillor, Teri O'Neill – Eastern Ward councillor and Rebecca Matthews – Onslow-Western Ward Councillor. 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.

Daran Ponter of the Wellington City ward on the Greater Wellington Regional Council is the only councillor to have been elected on a Labour ticket, although other councillors such as Ros Connelly and Penny Gaylor have a history with the party. Campbell Barry has been the mayor of Lower Hutt since 2019, and was elected on a Labour ticket along with Wainuiomata ward councilor Keri Brown.

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. 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.[109] In 2019, Steve Walker was elected to the Dunedin City Council and Marian Hobbs was elected to the Otago regional council, both on a Labour Party ticket.[110]

In Palmerston North, councillor Lorna Johnson and Zulfiqar Butt are the only two representatives 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



MMP era, 1996–present[112][113][114][115][116][117]
Election Party votes Total % Seats won Status
1919 131,402 24.2% Steady
8 / 80
1922 150,448 23.70% Decrease
17 / 80
1925 184,650 27.20% Increase
12 / 80
1928 198,092 26.19% Decrease
19 / 80
Junior in coalition with United
1931 244,881 34.27% Increase
24 / 80
1935 434,368 46.17% Increase
53 / 80
Two-party system era
1938 528,290 55.82% Increase
53 / 80
1943 522,189 47.6% Decrease
45 / 80
1946 536,994 51.28% Increase
42 / 80
1949 506,073 47.16% Decrease
34 / 80
1951 473,146 45.8% Decrease
30 / 80
1954 481,631 44.1% Decrease
35 / 80
1957 531,740 48.3% Increase
41 / 80
1960 420,084 43.4% Decrease
34 / 80
1963 383,205 43.7% Increase
35 / 80
1966 382,756 41.4% Decrease
35 / 80
1969 464,346 44.2% Increase
39 / 84
1972 677,669 48.37% Increase
55 / 87
1975 634,453 39.56% Decrease
32 / 87
1978 691,076 40.41% Increase
40 / 92
1981 702,630 39.01% Decrease
43 / 91
1984 829,154 42.98% Increase
56 / 95
1987 878,448 47.96% Increase
57 / 97
1990 640,915 35.14% Decrease
29 / 97
1993 666,759 34.68% Decrease
45 / 99
Mixed-member proportional representation era
1996 584,159 28.19% Decrease
37 / 120
1999 800,199 38.74% Increase
49 / 120
Government (coalition)
2002 838,219 41.26% Increase
52 / 120
2005 935,319 41.10% Decrease
50 / 121
2008 796,880 33.99% Decrease
43 / 122
2011 614,936 27.48% Decrease
34 / 121
2014 604,534 25.13% Decrease
32 / 121
2017 956,184 36.89% Increase
46 / 120
Government (coalition)
2020 1,443,546 50.01% Increase
65 / 120
Labour did not stand candidates in every electorate until 1946, when it stood candidates in all 80 electorates. According to the National Executive reports,[118] 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.


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, Clark had passed his longest possible leadership term by 26 October 2008.[119]

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. Leader Portrait Term of office Position Prime Minister
1 Alfred Hindmarsh Alfred Hindmarsh.jpg 7 July 1916 13 November 1918† Massey
2 Harry Holland Harry Holland (1925).jpg 27 August 1919 8 October 1933†
LO 1926–1928 Coates
Junior coalition partner
LO 1931–1933 Forbes
3 Michael Joseph Savage 12 October 1933 27 March 1940† LO 1933–1935
PM 1935–1940 Savage
4 Peter Fraser Peter Fraser.jpg 1 April 1940 12 December 1950† PM 1940–1949 Fraser
LO 1949–1950 Holland
5 Walter Nash Walter Nash (ca 1940s).jpg December 1950 31 March 1963 LO 1951–1957
PM 1957–1960 Nash
LO 1960–1963 Holyoake
6 Arnold Nordmeyer Arnold Nordmeyer (1950).jpg 1 April 1963 16 December 1965 LO 1963–1965
7 Norman Kirk Norman Kirk, crop.jpg 16 December 1965 31 August 1974† LO 1965–1972
PM 1972–1974 Kirk
8 Bill Rowling Bill Rowling, 1962.jpg 6 September 1974 3 February 1983 PM 1974–1975 Rowling
LO 1975–1983 Muldoon
9 David Lange
David Lange (1992).jpg
3 February 1983 8 August 1989 LO 1983–1984
PM 1984–1989 Lange
10 Geoffrey Palmer
Geoffrey Palmer.jpg
8 August 1989 4 September 1990 PM 1989–1990 Palmer
11 Mike Moore
Mike Moore, 1992 (crop).jpg
4 September 1990 1 December 1993 PM 1990 Moore
LO 1990–1993 Jim Bolger
12 Helen Clark 1 December 1993 19 November 2008 LO 1993–1999
PM 1999–2008 Clark
13 Phil Goff
Phil Goff.jpg
19 November 2008 13 December 2011 LO 2008–2011 Key
14 David Shearer
David Shearer.jpg
13 December 2011 15 September 2013 LO 2011–2013
15 David Cunliffe
David Cunliffe, 2008.jpg
15 September 2013 30 September 2014 LO 2013–2014
16 Andrew Little 18 November 2014 1 August 2017 LO 2014–2017
17 Jacinda Ardern 1 August 2017 Incumbent LO 2017
PM 2017–present Ardern

List of deputy leaders

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

No. Deputy leader Term
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:[120]

No. President Term
1 James McCombs 1916–1917[121]
2 Andrew Walker 1917–1918 [122]
3 Tom Paul 1918–1920[123]
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[124]
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[125]
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 1970–1973
23 Charles Bennett 1973–1976[126]
24 Arthur Faulkner 1976–1978
25 Jim Anderton 1979–1984
26 Margaret Wilson 1984–1987
27 Rex Jones 1987–1988[127]
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 2015–2019
36 Claire Szabó 2019–present[128]

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  • Franks, Peter; McAloon, Jim (2016). Labour: The New Zealand Labour Party 1916–2016. Wellington: Victoria University Press. ISBN 978-1-77656-074-5.
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  • Gustafson, Barry (1986). From the Cradle to the Grave: A biography of Michael Joseph Savage. Auckland: Reed Methuen. ISBN 978-0-474-00138-3. (with Biographical appendix)
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External links


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