United Party (New Zealand)

From Academic Kids

This article is about the party created in 1927 from a faction of the Liberal Party. It should not be confused with United New Zealand, a political party founded in 1995. The two have no connection.

The United Party of New Zealand was a party formed out of the remnants of the Liberal Party. It formed a government between 1928 and 1935, and eventually merged with the Reform Party to establish the modern National Party.



The Liberal Party, although once dominant in New Zealand politics, had been in serious decline for some time, and its organisation had decayed to the point of collapse. The United Party represented an unexpected resurgence of the Liberals, and is sometimes considered to be nothing more than the Liberal Party under a new name. The United Party was based on a faction of the decaying Liberal Party known as "the National Party" (not related to the modern National Party, although it may have inspired the name). The faction was led by George Forbes, a Liberal Party leader. Forbes was joined by Bill Veitch (who led another faction of the Liberals, but who had once been involved with the labour movement) and Albert Davey (who was a well-known and highly successful organiser for the Reform Party, the traditional opponent of the Liberals). It was hoped that the United Party would draw support not only from former Liberals, but from moderates on either the right or left of the Liberals.

The new organisation was named the United Party. This was a shortened form of "United New Zealand Political Organisation", which had been used by Davy after he had left Reform. Forbes and Veitch both contested the leadership, but eventually, Joseph Ward won the position. Ward was a former Liberal Prime Minister, and although he was not in the best of health, he was backed by Davy as a compromise candidate.


In the 1928 elections, the new United Party performed surprisingly well, winning twenty-seven seats. The Reform Party also had twenty-seven seats, the Labour Party had nineteen, the Country Party had one, and independents held six. The United Party formed a government with the backing of the Labour Party, and Ward became Prime Minister again.

The United Party government was not particularly smooth, however. Ward's ill health persisted, and by the time he finally resigned in 1930, George Forbes was effectively running the party. Forbes became Prime Minister after Ward's departure, but faced serious economic problems, including the onset of depression. Forbes did not project an image of activity or leadership — Downey Stewart, finance spokesman for Reform, privately described Forbes as "apathetic and fatalistic", and suggested that although he had "a rotten job", Forbes was really simply marking time.


In 1931, the United government passed a number of economic measures which were seen as unfavourable to workers, the Labour Party withdrew its support. The United Party continued in office with reluctant support from the Reform Party, which feared that a collapse of government (and thus a general election) would see large gains for Labour. Later the same year, formal coalition talks were held between United, Reform, and Labour, with a "unity government" being proposed to counter the depression. Labour eventually walked out of the talks, but Reform leader Gordon Coates (pressed by Downie Stewart) eventually agreed. Forbes, backed by dissident members of Reform, managed to win the leadership of the coalition government, but Downie Stewart of Reform became the Minister of Finance.

In the 1931 elections, the coalition worked in close co-operation, and won fifty-one out of the eighty seats. This was a slight drop from what United and Reform had held before, but was better than many had anticipated in light of the economic conditions. The government was not particularly stable, however — tensions were particularly strong between Gordon Coates and Downie Stewart, who clashed over the best response to the country's economic problems. Coates eventually won, and Stewart resigned. Coates, as the new Minister of Finance, became increasingly powerful, and was not strongly opposed by the weary Forbes — while Forbes remained Prime Minister, Coates was effectively the leader of government. The economic situation persisted.

In the 1935 elections, the coalition once again worked together. Anger at the country's ongoing economic problems was high, however, and Forbes and Coates were jointly seen as being responsible. In addition, a new "anti-socialist" party, the Democrats, had been founded by Albert Davy, and took votes away form the coalition. Forbes, still the nominal leader of the coalition, was tired and apathetic. These factors all added up to a decisive defeat of the coalition by the Labour Party, and the appointment of Michael Joseph Savage as the first Labour Prime Minister.


United and Reform, still in coalition and now holding only nineteen seats, went into opposition. In 1936, it was decided to make the coalition permanent, and merge United and Reform into a single party. The new organisation was named the National Party, and along with Labour, is currently one of New Zealand's two major parties.

Template:Historic New Zealand political parties


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