In 2011 just before the New Zealand general election, my mate asked me over a beer which political party I was backing to get into Parliament. With hesitation I said New Zealand First. He just about fell of his stool laughing. He said I had no hope and said he’d put two beers on it.
During 2000, seeing a point in the future when a centrist party might be needed, and deciding that I am probably centrist in terms of my standpoint, I decided to join New Zealand First. I liked their defence policy, and the fact that they still saw a future for logging on the West Coast. In 2002 New Zealand First and United Future were the major benefactors of “the worm” feature of a televised debate in the election campaign when the worm suddenly spiked. New Zealand First were pursuing a Treaty of Waitangi/Justice/Immigration and my social views had hardened somewhat since 11 September 2001, thinking that Labour was soft on justice and not appreciating the intricacies of treaty negotiations, I thought their platform was the best. That swung me over.
The party began a slow decline in my book after this. Although it managed to largely stay out of controversy, I noticed it had not started up a youth wing and when I volunteered to set one up in 2003, the Party President said in his response that I would be best joining the Greens. The 2006 scandal over election spending in the 2005 campaign where nearly every party in Parliament had spent money that they were not entitled to and the resulting fall out made me reconsider my membership.
In 2008 New Zealand First exited Parliament. At this point most New Zealanders, including myself honestly thought it was dead. It had failed to acquire a youth wing, which was something that every other major party on the university campuses now had. The unfortunate tendency of certain Members of Parliaments to rail against immigrants and in particular the Asian population did not help either.
But a year later, I was beginning to become concerned growing about how National was treating democratic rights of New Zealanders. The Canterbury earthquakes had not started to hit and Amnesty International were not yet sounding significant alarm bells about New Zealand’s direction at this point. However the clouds on the political horizon looked potent. It was more out of luck that I managed to contact a New Zealand First member by an online chat forum after being impressed with her rigorous defence of New Zealand First policy (Tracey Martin), and I began to have second thoughts about my membership.
In August 2010, I asked about rejoining a party that did have the resources of those that were in Parliament. I was told to contact a Marie Daldry. She was able to convince me after a couple of conversations that New Zealand First was a party being regenerated, and to register for the Party convention in Christchurch in October that year.
My first impressions looking around at the convention were, where are the young people. Who is everybody? At the first break I was introduced to a young guy with slicked black hair who turned out to be Curwen Rolinson. He seemed to be personable, albeit a bit distracted. Later in the day he stood for the board as a youth candidate, giving a rather humorous and quite witty speech about dragging the party into the 21st Century. In 2011, with the help of Curwen, myself, and others such as Josh van Veen, Ben Craven (youngest Parliamentary candidate of any party in 2011) it did what many thought impossible. To the horror of my conservative friends, the delight of my more moderate friends, and It re-entered Parliament, having taken nearly 7% of the Party vote, with Winston and six new list Members of Parliament plus Barbara Stewart (a veteran of the 1993-2008 Parliamentary period)being elected.
The departure of Brendan Horan, who was made to walk the plank and the background rumblings of other M.P.’s having issues one might have thought would rebound on the party, but it persistently performed better than the polls suggested. In 2014, despite leaks to the media of internal rumblings, New Zealand First managed to pick up another 3 Members of Parliament at the election of 20 September 2014. Whilst the news was dominated by National’s epic victory and Labours equally epic failure, little was said about the only party to seriously grow in size.
In 2015, with the calendar year barely a month old, National Party Member of Parliament Mike Sabin abruptly quit Parliament. Mr Sabin was thought to be under investigation for criminal offences. That opened his electorate seat of Northland to a by-election. Given New Zealand First’s past reluctance to fight by-election campaigns, it was a surprise therefore to hear that Winston Peters would be standing. With his victory on 28 March 2015, New Zealand First were granted a twelfth Member of Parliament in the shape of Ria Bond. Not since 2002 has N.Z.F. been this strong.
Which is why I am find the commentary from one seriously misguided New Zealand Herald columnist to be a brilliant flight of fantasy. And fortunately for New Zealanders tired of National and not yet convinced Labour has the goods under Andrew Little’s leadership just that: fantasy.