Middle Class Disillusionment
The third reason for expanding extremist influence in the Labour Party is a widespread middle class disillusionment with main-stream politics.
Like much of the Western World, in the last 30 years New Zealand’s politics have grown increasingly unstable and voter confidence in established parties has fallen dramatically.
Ideologically New Zealand was turned on it’s head in 1984 when a newly elected Labour Party began to break with economic policies of the past in what became known as “Rogernomics”.
The policies championed by Labour Finance Minister Roger Douglas were a shock to many New Zealanders long used to the certainties of the welfare state.
Widespread corporatisation and privatisation of state assets meant a huge shedding of surplus labour and unemployment of more than 100,000 for the first time since the 1930s.
Deregulation of the financial sector led to an upsurge in speculatory activity and improved business growth. This combined with a perception that an attack on bureaucracy was long overdue, gave Labour enough of the middle class and business vote (traditionally National Party property) to convincingly win the 1987 General Election.
Traditional Labour support however was decimated. Whole branches were lost and membership plummeted.
In the early 1970s some estimates gave the Labour Party well over 100,000 members. By the 1990 General Election most estimates gave the party no more than 6,000-10,000 members nationwide.
One Wellington Labour official of the time estimated 8,000 members nationally, with 2,000 concentrated in Richard Prebble’s Auckland Central electorate. (Prebble had a strong base among the conservative Pacific Island community and worked diligently on building a high membership base to counter left wing attempts to oust him.)
The same official estimated only 1500 active Labour members nationwide and claimed that most were on the extreme left.
While Marxists had been infiltrating the Labour Party since the 1920s, their effect had always been diluted by moderate opposition to their activities and the sheer size and inertia of the Labour Party.
In the ’70s and ’80s a new generation of university educated radicals began moving into the Labour Party at exactly the time the “old guard” was dying off or giving up.
After 1987 the left began to re-assert itself in Labour and began a purge of “Rogernomics” supporters.
By 1990 the Labour Party executive, bureaucracy and parliamentary wing was almost totally dominated by activists of the extreme left.
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