United’s future is history
The 1990s were fractious times, MMP was still an unknown quantity and it probably seemed smart of Dunne and his fellow travellers to set a course for the extreme middle. But that also meant they would be forever subject to the slings and arrows of other party’s fortunes.
It meant that 1999 was a bad year for the party but 2002 was a good year. Dunne became associated with common sense after an unusually commanding TV appearance and his rejuvenated party brought in a host of Christian MPs, who peeled off and defected to more overt conservative parties.
United Future finally folded up its tent this week after 22 years, which is a geological age as far as New Zealand’s small parties are concerned. It survived because it successfully became a one-man band that reflected Dunne’s abilities as a reliable constituency MP and his skills and experience as a Parliamentary operator.
Some will argue that United Future seemed, in the end, to stand for little. Future historians might say it was rash of Dunne to suddenly abandon the 2017 election only four weeks before the finish and to hand over the reins to the unknown Damian Light.
Dunne called the decision ‘‘sad but understandable’’ and pointed to his and the party’s achievements. The most highprofile is the Psychoactive Substances Act, world-leading legislation that seemed to confuse many New Zealanders.
Light has mourned the demise of the party he briefly led by claiming that further drug law reform is now less likely to proceed. But it has a better chance than ever. Dunne always acknowledged that he was just one vote in a National-led coalition that refused to budge on drugs issues.
By contrast, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has already signalled that funding for alcohol and drug addiction services will increase, addiction will be treated as a health issue, medicinal cannabis will be available to people with terminal illnesses or in chronic pain and a referendum on legalising personal cannabis use will happen by 2020.
That is what real power and influence looks like.
If United Future began its life as an expression of MMP’s potential, it ended as a demonstration of its limits.