When I first heard about United Future leader Peter Dunne, it was in the year 1999, as a tired, clueless National-led Government devoid of ideas headed for an election it was doomed to lose. He was – and still is – leading the United Future New Zealand Party as part of a then assortment of M.P.’s keeping the National Party in office. The election was lost by National, but that was not the end of Peter Dunne the politician. In some respects it was perhaps just the beginning.
To know Peter Dunne, one has to look at his history, which saw him start off his Parliamentary career with the Labour Party when it crushed National in the 1984 election. He supported its more right-wing faction rather than the left-wing faction that its union roots are instilled in. Mr Dunne held various Ministerial portfolio’s including the Environment and associate Justice Minister roles. Mr Dunne was left isolated by the departure of Labour’s right-leaning faction, which moved to form the A.C.T. party, and eventually became an independent. He formed the United Future Party at a time when the centrist part of the spectrum in New Zealand had the New Zealand First Party, the New Zealand Party, and the United New Zealand Party. Mr Dunne was a survivor of the 1996 election which virtually destroyed the party, whilst propelling New Zealand First into coalition with National. He became Minister of Internal Affairs.
During the second term of Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark’s Government, United Future which had picked up 9 M.P.’s at the 2002 election had an agreement to support Labour. However no coalition agreement was entered into. Mr Dunne by this point was known around the House as an M.P. who rarely crossed swords with the Speaker of the House. He was also becoming known as an M.P. who tended to stay in the background when a more proactive stand might have garnered support. Not one to rock the boat, Mr Dunne did well to stay in Parliament after the 2005 considering the lack of media attention he had. His Party was reduced to two M.P.’s and he was criticised by the then leader of the National Party, Don Brash, for deciding to support Labour instead of National.
By this point Mr Dunne had entered what some people believe to be a slow but terminal decline of his leadership. He lost support from Gordon Copeland the Christian faction of the party over supporting Green M.P. Sue Bradfords controversial anti-smacking legislation. His Party went from having him hold Ohariu-Belmont by 7702 votes in 2005 to just 1,006 votes in 2011. His remaining list M.P. Judy Turner was defeated when United Future failed to gain enough votes to allow more a list M.P. to join Mr Dunne in Parliament.
Since 2008, Mr Dunne has been the Minister of Revenue and Associate Minister of Health for the Government of Prime Minister John Key. The latter regards him as a steady, reliable Minister, but his refusal to challenge Prime Minister Key on issues such as constitutional reform, democracy in Canterbury and support recreationalists as he has in the past, have lead to many wondering if he has lost sight of the centrist vision that drove United Future in the past decade. Still, not bad for a man who has been in or near Parliament for 28 years.