How to Start a New Political Party

I looked seriously at how to start a political party. Seriously enough to have a go in 2011, suggesting a party based on more inclusive democracy. That’s actually where the name of this site came from – Your NZ.

It soon became apparent that it was a daunting task, especially with few resources (in other words, I’m not a multi-millionaire with money to burn).

Getting the 500 party members necessary to register as a party is challenging.

Most people who are interested in political involvement are already involved with existing parties. And by far the majority of people are not interested in getting involved in political parties.

Even if you can manage to sign up 500 party members there is then the reality that no new party has managed to beat the 5% threshold. Most get nowhere near it, and with no apparent chance of making the threshold voters aren’t interested.

There were sixteen registered parties this election so they must have all signed up 500 members, but the Internet party only got 464 votes so far – perhaps the rest of their members will be counted in specials.

Anyway, I’ve been sidetracked from the reason for this post – a post by Alex Eastwood-Williams at Right Minds NZ on How to Start a New Political Party

This includes an interesting graph of the historical links between different New Zealand political parties, plus discussion on party formation.

My point was to demonstrate that founding a new political party simply to cater to a more pure strain of a particular ideology is almost always a waste of time and effort (I’m looking at you, MNZGA). To be successful, political parties have to be able to form coalitions, and I don’t mean coalitions with other parties, I mean form coalitions of voters.

Last week I used the example of New Zealand First, currently the third oldest party in New Zealand, and argued that its political survival hinges on its ability to form an internal coalition of working class Maori, upper class elderly white people and disillusioned voters from other parties such as Labour or the Conservatives.

A big talking point as we await the outcome of the election is the Green Party determination to not consider a governing with National, and their exclusion so far from discussions with NZ First in particular and also their supposed ally, Labour.

Greens have successfully managed internal coalitions but have been largely unsuccessfully over 7 elections at forming meaningful coalitions with other parties.

How to form a new party:

So maybe you’ve read all this, but you’re still hell-bent on starting a new political party. What can you do?

You have only two options: You can either attempt to find people on the extreme wings of the left and the right and hope that enough people are annoyed with Labour or National being “too centrist” that they’ll vote for your new party instead – but be aware that as soon as you end up in power, you’ll be absorbed by the bigger, older party.

The alternative is to build a coalition that is neither left nor right and be non-aligned: Either you could be a liberal right-wing party like Bob Jones’ New Zealand Party in 1984, or a conservative left-wing party like Social Credit. You could try and be “centrist” but appeal to urban liberal voters like United Future or the British Liberal Democrats, or you could try to be “centrist” but appeal to rural conservative voters like NZ First (and, again, Social Credit).

As long as you’re consistently attacking both the left and the right in equal measure, and you don’t get into power, your movement will survive. And it helps to go in the opposite direction to the other parties, too.

But too much negative politics can turn potential supporters off. Winston Peters tends to dominate the “consistently attacking both the left and the right”, leaving little room for anyone else in this space.

For example, if Labour are trying to be socially conservative to win National voters, and National are trying to be left-wing to win over Labour voters, then your best bet is to form a right-wing socially liberal party: It worked for Bob Jones in 1984, it works for the Libertarians in the US (where the Democrats and Republicans both try to out-conservative or out-big government each other) and it worked well for the Liberal Democrats in the UK when you had a socially authoritarian New Labour competing with David Cameron’s “Compassionate” Conservatives.

However if things are trending the opposite direction: National are trying to be socially liberal (e.g. John Key) and Labour are trying to be economically right-wing, then you should be trying to win over the conservatives and economic left-wingers.

Basically, if you’re a non-aligned party, you should do the opposite of what the left and right parties do: If they agree on something, it’s your job to disagree.

But if you’re planning to start a new party, and if you’re planning to be successful, be prepared to eschew ideological purity: There are a diminishing number of each type of voter, and you will need to be able to form a coalition that can appeal to as many as possible.

I really don’t think there is much hope for any new party with the current barrier of our 5% threshold. National and Labour have been happy to keep that in place to protect their patches. Even the Greens have been happy with a high threshold, despite their claims to being principled on democracy.

Going by our 21 year history of MMP the only practical way of starting a new party requires a long term and high risk strategy:

– join an existing party
– grease your way up the ranks
– either score a winnable electorate (if in National or Labour), or
– get enough party support to get a winnable place on the party list
– establish yourself in Parliament for a term or two
– get enough other MPs to split off into a sizeable new party
– win an electorate or beat the 5% threshold in an election

If you manage to make it that far your next task is to play a meaningful part in a government. That could take another term or two, or if you’re the Greens, seven terms and still trying.

As well as this expect to get a lot of media disinterest because you are not deemed important enough for them to promote, unless you create some controversy and get hammered by them.

If you look like achieving some success also expect attacks, undermining and dirty politics from opponents in parties and in social media.

Why don’t we get more good quality candidates and politicians?

There is the odd exception.

Shane Jones seems to have been given an easy ride into parliament by Labour, and again by NZ First. But he is part of the club.

A media bored by the Auckland mayoral election last year amused themselves by picking up and promoting Chloe Swarbrick, and she picked up a few more consolation votes than others.

And the media kept giving her exposure, leading to her taking her chances with the Greens. It turned out she was the right age and sex for the Greens to promote her up the ranks, ahead of candidates who had been greasing their way up the party for many years. And she’s now in Parliament. But for every Nek Minit success there are thousands who get nowhere near achieving their political ambitions.

Colin Craig, Kim Dotcom and now Gareth Morgan couldn’t buy their way into Parliament with huge resources.

The most common pathway into Parliament these days is to become a party staffer either as a political graduate or a journalist, and grease your way up the party from there. Many years involved before even getting a shot at the big time.

Trying to start a party and trying to find a way into Parliament can be interesting and fun, but for most it is futile hobby.

If you want to be an MP your best chance is making it a career and wheedling your way into and up the political class.

If you want to fast track pick a smaller party with possible future prospects. Unless you can convincingly join the Green congregation they only option is NZ First, but that means having to approve of Winston and be approved by him. And remaining subordinate.

Someone may come up with a successful way of starting a political party, but the formula hasn’t been found yet. It will take a lot of ability, a lot of nous, and a lot of luck. Even the most successful politicians happen to be in the right position of the right party at the right time.

Leave a comment


  1. Zedd

     /  3rd October 2017

    “Hey Good idea” PG.. ‘YourNZ party’ ! nice ring to it. 🙂

    BUT; Its a worry when Internet party reportedly has 500+ members, but only got 464 votes (could be more after special count ?).

    Democrat/Soc Crt. came out of the ‘Social Credit League’ who were at the centre of moves to MMP; 21% of vote in 1992(?) only got 2 seats. BUT since then have not got over 5%.. (as far as Im aware)
    similarly ALCP; apparently 15-20% of population ‘smoke the herb’ on a regular basis, but they have never got over 2% & only got 0.3% this time.

    MMP is supposedly about broad representation, but is still mostly painted by MSM in FPP terms; Left V Right.. this has to STOP !!

    • Zedd

       /  3rd October 2017

      btw; the biggest stumbling block is the 5% threshhold.. should be either dropped to say; 2% or just removed all together. All the votes for TOP & other ‘minor parties’ this time, have effectively been dumped by this, into the Election garbage bin ! 😦

  2. sorethumb

     /  3rd October 2017

    I think the whole “party” idea is flawed. Ultimately it is ideas that are important: agreeing on future goals and strategies. We are a loose co alition of parts trying to be a cheetah.
    We need to reform the system. Parties should not get as far as campaigning on dumb policies (amateurish economic policies etc). TOPS should have had a much better start in the race. We shouldn’t have tax policies etc so late in the day. Those things need to undergo scrutiny before they are allowed to be presented as policy. Also in the formation of policy, we need public funding (otherwise vested interests will front up). All in all, we need to do away with tribalism, personality and smoke (“a brighter future”)?

  3. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  3rd October 2017

    Why did folks think MMP would ever deliver any decent type of change?

    It has been rigged (at 5% threshhold) to ensure the 2 big parties retain power.

    We all had our chance to vote for STV. Pity some folks didn’t take it.

  4. Corky

     /  3rd October 2017

    I believe Colin Craig, would have gotten in this election if his sleaze could have been kept under wraps. They had some bloody good policies. But it seems mavericks always stuff it up.

  5. Chuck Bird

     /  3rd October 2017

    I think it possible the two Greens who got kick out of the party could start an environmental party as happened with New Labour.

  6. Great information here i would love to join up with you all.


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