National is the political party of business and farmers so policy is always going to bend in their favour… Martyn ’Bomber’ Bradbury, Tumeke!, July 7.
I’m not intending to pick on the Tumeke! blog –which I find interesting – but some statements (like the one above) deserve a response.
Bradbury’s statement is simply not true and the facts bear this out.
Over recent weeks Dunedin political scientist Bryce Edwards on his Liberation blog has been analysing the social base of the various political parties. It’s authoritative stuff and it’s from Bryce Edwards’s research that I draw my information.
Labour’s economic strategy in government after 1984 can be read as an attempt to reconfigure the party’s support base using neo-liberal and socially liberal reforms to attract further middle class support.
This strategy was successful – so much so that it lost much of its traditional working class support.
In 1990 an New Zealand Election Study survey revealed that ‘‘Labour’s normal lead over National among manual workers had wasted away to nothing. Thirty percent of the manual group supported each party’
At the 1990 election 30 percent of manual workers simply didn’t vote.
In 1993 Labour’s support among blue-collar workers improved slightly – unionists voting Labour increased from 36 percent to 39 percent.
At the 1996 election political former political science lecturer Alan McRobie was surprised by the ‘strength of support for National amongst the semi-skilled and unskilled – over 36% of the party votes and electorate votes cast by electors in the quintile with the most semi-skilled or unskilled people went to National.
During the 1996-99 parliamentary term, while in opposition, the Labour Party gained the trust and support of the business community to govern again. An important indicator of this was a landmark 1998 business survey carried out by the Independent business newspaper which reported that business now felt more positive about the election of a Labour-led government.
Edwards also observes that in 2002 the Dominion Post reported that Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce was welcoming the re-election of the Government, and also said that ‘Business leaders spoken to by The Dominion Post were unanimous in their support for Labour’s victory
As Edwards and others have pointed Labour is now one of the preferred parties of business. In 1999 for example Labour received as many financial contributions from business interests as did National. In 2002 Labour actually received more donations from business than National.
The Labour Party now draws even the support of a number of prominent National Party business people. For example, Dryden Spring, a former corporate fund-raiser for the National Party, and former chairman of the New Zealand Dairy Board agreed to be the keynote speaker at a Labour Party conference. Former Auckland divisional head of the National Party, Ross Armstrong became a close friend and supporter of Labour leader Helen Clark, and worked closely with her government. Another champion of the party, is a former ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ and millionaire vice-chairman of the Business Roundtable, Bill Day (Talbot, 2002).
Also worthy of note is that the Labour caucus is drawn from a narrow middle class base. There is no tangible connection with the New Zealand working class.
Edwards quotes political science lecturer Jack Nagel who wrote in 1998 about Labour’s caucus;
‘..they no longer had any visceral identification with poor and working class people; their own interests, associations and lifestyles led them to identify with New Zealand’s affluent classes; and their "leftism" lay in non-economic issues, to which most of them gave priority’
For ‘Bomber’ Bradbury to suggest that National is the party of business is only telling half of the story because Labour is also a preferred party of business.
To use Bradbury’s term Labour is ‘the party of owners’.