Yesterday New Zealand First Party President Lester Gray quit. His departure reminded me of the many others who have departed, having been stone walled or frozen out over the years.
In the 6 New Zealand First Conventions I went to, I saw much teeth gnashing over whether to support particular ideas and policies. Delegates would put ideas forward, and many would be accepte. But they would almost immediately be forgotten, almost as if the Board were just going through the motions.
Between the 2014 Election and my departure in May 2017 I saw enough of the internal politics of New Zealand First to wonder how the party had managed to last as long as it had without a full scale meltdown. The conclusion was that only due to the sheer diligence of the membership and one or two people on the New Zealand First Party Board of Directors was this scenario avoided.
After each election a debrief was had. During the intervening three years, Conventions came and went, at which policy remits would be passed and the party would pat itself on the back for surviving another year. However it continued to be dogged – and continues to be dogged – by a lack of basic accountability at Board level. During that time a constant state of paralysis managed to cripple many good ideas that had been put forward, which would go on to be forgotten about, stalled or dropped completely. Just a few of them are listed here:
- A New Zealand First Youth wing – a lack of focus on youth was one of the reasons for the party failing to pick up 5% of the vote in 2008, and a Youth wing was only formalized in 2015
- Presence on social media and associated management policy has not been finalised six years after being introduced
- Developing an election campaigning blue print that can be rapidly rolled out each election which everyone understands
- Letting Shane Jones join the party, leap frogging many members who had much bigger claims to being on the party list
- Fundraising, which despite the party being resurgent, is not something we are good at
The membership, despite largely being elderly, and often constrained by a board that seemed to be terrified of forward progress managed to get 8 list candidates into Parliament in 2011 and 11 in 2014. A 12th Member of Parliament joined after New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters won the Northland by-election in 2015.
The departure of Mr Gray on what he considered ethical grounds suggests to me that New Zealand First has an ethics issue. The party really needs to have a swift and decisive examination of how it came to this. With a Convention in Christchurch in 2 weeks time and an election in 2020 it will be interesting to see how this plays out for New Zealand First.