Skip to main content
Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




The Democratic Labour Party was formed by John A. Lee and W. E. Barnard in April 1940 immediately after the former's expulsion from the Labour Party. The party attracted many rank and file Labour Party members dissatisfied with the Government's performance, particularly its failure to carry out its 1935 proposals for credit and currency control. Democratic Labour policy demanded “complete control in the interests of the people of currency and credit” and greater use of “debt-free currency” to develop industry and housing. It maintained that the country's manpower resources were overcommitted in the war effort and called for the return of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force to the Pacific area.

Of the party's 52 candidates in the 1943 election, only Lee saved his deposit, and he was soundly beaten by an official Labour candidate, although his majority in 1938 had been the highest in New Zealand. Democratic Labour candidates were, however, responsible for the loss of four Labour seats to the National Party. After this defeat little more was heard of Democratic Labour, and by 1947 it had virtually ceased to exist.

The bulk of Labour voters remained loyal to their party; comparatively few were prepared to risk a government defeat in wartime by voting for a splinter group.

Although Democratic Labour inherited many of the ideas and some of the mystique of the pre-1935 Labour Party, its failure was certain. None of Lee's sympathisers in Parliament, apart from Barnard, joined him, and the trade union movement remained almost entirely loyal to Labour.

Despite its name, the party does not seem to have been notably democratic in the management of its own affairs. Only two conferences were ever held, and complaints of domination by the national executive and by Lee himself were frequent.

by John Richard Sinclair Daniels, M.A., Local Government Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • The Speech of a New Zealander, Barnard, W. E. (1940)
  • Election Pamphlets, Democratic Labour Party (1943), (a collection in the General Assembly Library)
  • Expelled from the Labour Party for Telling the Truth, Lee, J. A. (1940)
  • I Fight for New Zealand, Lee, J. A. (1940)
  • John A. Lee's Weekly (1940–48).