Party Membership – an empty word?


It’s funny how the world goes around, and it’s also funny how people vote and who they put in to parliament. Why do New Zealanders continually vote for political parties that hurt them, do we like punishment? Or are we just all stupid as a nation. The radical neoliberal reforms of the 1980s and the 1990s by the Labour and National governments brought this country to its knees, these reforms were supposed to be the best thing for the country, and it was seen to be tough love, and over soon and we would all live in a paradise.
Well the reforms were 30 years ago this year, and New Zealand is far from alright, the country has huge rates of child poverty, high unemployment, and low rates of wages, and the list goes on. John Key and his rag tag team of ministers are continuing the reforms of the 80s and 90s but they are doing it in stealth mode, like the Russians taking over Crimea, with balaclavas on their heads and unmarked uniforms, but make no mistake the National party is still pushing their own ideology. An example of this is asset sales.
I think maybe the two big political parties in New Zealand have their own selves to thank for low membership to their parties. I know that party membership was declining but since the radical reforms of the 80s and 90s the public in general have abandoned National and Labour in droves.

I think that this low party memberships all comes back to the neo-liberal reforms which have hurt so many people in our country, and that is why MMP was voted in to keep the two big parties from doing radical reforms like that again. Raymond Miller argues that

“… the big parties were not worrying so much about membership, as they relied more on corporate and private donations. (O’Connor 2005) Miller also points out that a lot of parties us email lists as their support base, and most of these people are not paid up members. (O’Connor 2005)

I signed a petition at university for the Green Party a few years back, and since then have been receiving emails from them, which I don’t even look at, but do they class me as being a member of their party?, because I can tell you I am not.
Even today with social media, political parties still need members to do the grunt work. Obama used members to ring people on the phones and knock on doors and talk to people in the street, there is definitely a place for the party member. England is also looking at low party membership, to the point that they are facing a huge problem, they unlike New Zealand are trying to fix it,
Michael Fabricant, a Conservative vice-chairman, said:

“Membership of parties across the political spectrum, like the membership of clubs and associations, is declining as other attractions fill people’s time. That is why the Conservatives are introducing ‘team 2015’ to recruit people to help at the election. We are also looking at alternative forms of campaigning, which has led to the recruitment of Jim Messina.” (Morris and Wright 2013).

The Tories introduced ‘Team 2015’ because they realized that they would not have the people on the ground to do the door knocking and leaflet drops. This type of support in swing seat areas could mean the difference between winning those seats or losing them.
Party membership is an important part of a political party, not just for their subs they pay, but for what those members do in the background, like the door knocking, leaflet drops and so on, for most of the public these party members are the face of the party.
I feel that people don’t trust and have been hurt by political parties in general over the years, through reforms and broken promises. This has created a political apathy resulting in the average person not caring about politics, let alone being party members. I honestly think that if a party emerged in New Zealand that campaigned on a platform that promotes full employment, improved living standards and kept their election promises, then you would see party membership take off, it’s a bit like a dog that gets booted and hit by its owner, it soon learns to cowl away from that owner, and in time it tries to escape or bites back. I can see this is what is happening to party membership in New Zealand and politics as a whole.

Morris, Nigel, and Oliver Wright. 2013. British politics at the crossroads: Tory membership plummets over disenchantment with Westminister. August 9th. Accessed March 23th, 2014.

O’Connor, Tessa. 2005. Maori Party ‘Biggest in the country’. May 29th. Accessed March 23th, 2014.


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