For six years, New Zealand First was one of the biggest foes that the Trans Pacific Partnership had. It, along with the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, represented a bloc in Parliament who wanted New Zealand to have nothing to do with what some called a corporate take over. It marched on the streets alongside the Greens and Labour M.P.’s. It assisted with petitions and introduced legislation to Parliament in an attempt to derail the T.P.P.A.
But in January this year, the Government, with New Zealand First standing proudly alongside, announced that they would support the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.
The response was swift and it could also be lethal. New Zealand First plunged in support from getting 9 Members of Parliament post election to being so low in the polls that it would not be back in Parliament if an election were held today.
There are a number of potential causes for the decline of the centrist/populist party that had in its ranks a growing number of younger people including myself.
The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement u-turn that New Zealand First has done might be the final straw for a lot of people who see it as the ultimate betrayal of everything the party stands for. Up to the election it had campaigned steadfastly against the agreement in any form and got my vote for that reason. And whilst Fletcher Tabuteau’s Fighting Foreign Corporate Control Bill might still be potentially revived, is Mr Tabuteau still interested?
Internal strife in the party, whose Board seems to be sluggish and averse to communication, has not helped. In 2015, having managed to gain 3 new Members of Parliament New Zealand First was optimistic about its future. Members of the Party and Members of Parliament were saying they could double the number of M.P.’s at the 2017 election. None seemed to have made any allowance for a Labour resurgence. Nor did anyone reckon with “Jacindamania”, the phenomenon that swept New Zealand in the weeks following Jacinda Ardern being appointed Leader of the Labour Party/Leader of the Opposition and then, following the election and New Zealand First’s decision to support Labour, Prime Minister.
A third problem could be Shane Jones. The former Labour Member of Parliament left in 2014 after questions were raised about him approving the application of a Chinese businessman for New Zealand citizenship. In June 2017 he was confirmed at no. 8 on the New Zealand First Party list for the election, over and above a number of hard working loyal party members and candidates deserving of promotion.
Could the party be saved from itself by the rural development fund? New Zealand First has long been a proponent of supporting the regions, which have been ignored in large part by the National and Labour parties, and are traditionally conservative. Part of New Zealand First policy at the election was a rural development fund that would support the rural communities that have faced long term decline from the closure of meat works, the centralisation of services such as the post office, banking, hospital and medical centres as well as schools and police stations.
Mr Jones is Regional Development Minister, and on 23 February 2018 he and Ms Ardern unveiled the N.Z.$3 billion rural development fund. This will fund a range of regional developments and the initial funding allows for investment in railways and totara forestry in Northland.
Given its struggles internally and externally, New Zealand First will be hoping that this enables the party to claw back some of the respect lost. This happened it announced it would support the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement’s successor, the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (C.P.T.P.P.).