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Labour Vs Greens – An Historical Perspective

Feedback: Labour Vs Greens – An Historical Perspective

Re: Anderton's Welcome Back, Greens Off The Guest List

To the editor:

Thought you might be interested to read a little gem of history, below, which came across an email list I'm on. These are not my words:

..Labour was in pretty much the same situation the Greens are in today back in the 1930s! They were the third party - and the two main parties were very similar (I.e. Labour were the only real alternative!).

The 1928 election, under First-Past-The-Post, created a hung parliament, effectively giving Labour the balance of power. Labour backed the United Party (effectively the right-wing faction of the old Liberal Party, led by Sir Joseph Ward) on confidence and supply.

However, in 1931 Labour did exactly the sort of thing, to borrow Helen Clark's words, that "give small parties a bad name"! Labour withdrew support for United because the government's policies went against Labour's own principles. How could Labour support a policy of "no work, no pay" for the relief schemes (in those days there was no unemployment benefit, and the relief schemes paid barely enough for a single working man to live off - and certainly not enough for a family wage!) or the wage cuts the United government wanted to introduce as part of it's "Retrenchment programme"?!

This forced the government to seek the support of the Reform Party, the second biggest party in parliament at the time. After the election of December 1931, this arrangement became formalised as a coalition government, and eventually the National Party.

So did this "give the Labour Party a bad name"? If it did somebody obviously forgot to tell the voters. In December 1931 Labour increased its share of the votes by 45,000 - receiving 241,991 votes (more than a third of the votes cast), and gained 24 seats. The coalition government had 49 seats in the 73 seat parliament. And, of course, Labour won by a landslide in 1935!

Ironically, Labour were attacked by the media and by the other parties, in much the same way the Greens are today - and yet Labour's victory in 1935 is now seen as a significant moment in New Zealand's history, and one fondly looked back on!


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