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National Party, New Zealand

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Contemporary history (up to 1986)

Established as New Zealand's main conservative party by a merger of the United and Reform Parties in 1936, it derived its support from rural areas and the wealthier suburbs. After World War II, it benefited from the Labour Party's increasing association with wartime controls, industrial unrest, and economic austerity. Led by Holland, it achieved a majority in 1949, but despite its greater emphasis on private enterprise, the party did not seek to undo Muldoon's and Fraser's welfare legislation. It lost power in 1957, but was able to exploit Nash's inability to cope with the country's economic difficulties in 1960, when it returned to power under Holyoake. He maintained the party's commitment to the USA through sending troops to the Vietnam War. He lost the election to a revitalized Labour Party under Kirk, whose idiosyncratic economic policies and inability to cope with the worldwide recession brought the National Party to power again in 1975, under Muldoon's leadership.

Once in office, Muldoon defied his party's traditional commitment to market principles and deregulation. He sought to overcome the country's difficulties through a series of interventionist policies, such as wage and price freezes, protectionism to safeguard agricultural incomes, and intervention in financial markets to ensure low interest rates. This caused a party split and led to the formation of the New Zealand Party (NZP) in 1983, which sought to revert to the National Party's previous policies. This split was an important factor in the party's defeat in the 1984 elections, as the NZP drew away much of its support, and gained almost 12 per cent of the popular vote. Muldoon resigned later that year, and the NZP reunited with the National Party as it shifted again to the right.

Contemporary politics (since 1986)

Led by Bolger from 1986, the National Party adopted Labour's popular anti‐nuclear stance, and rejected Muldoon's interventionist policies by seeking to eclipse Labour's liberal economic policies. It won the 1990 elections, and immediately carried out a radical shake‐up of the country's welfare system by creating the first ‘post‐welfarist’ society. Welfare benefits were no longer universal, but were handed out only to the very poorest section of the population. Bolger oversaw a strong, export‐led recovery, which contributed to a decline in unemployment and a reduction in public debt. Although many of Bolger's economic policies were highly controversial, he narrowly won the 1993 elections. Following the 1996 elections, the National Party governed in a coalition with the controversial New Zealand First Party. Six months after Jenny Shipley succeeded Bolger as Prime Minister the coalition broke apart. From August 1998, Shipley headed a minority government.

Shipley lost the 1999 elections, and in 2001 was succeeded as party leader by Bill English (b. 1961). After a catastrophic election defeat in 2002, the party was led by Don Brash from 2003, a former governor of the Bank of New Zealand. Under Brash, the party recovered at the 2005 elections, when it gained 18 per cent. However, it narrowly missed a majority, as it obtained two fewer seats than Labour. Brash resigned in 2006, as leaked emails revealed not just details of his private life, but also showed that Brash was aware of illicit funding practices. Brash also incited controversy by remarks about Maoris which his opponents branded as racist. He was succeeded by John Key. official website of the National Party (New Zealand).


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