The New Zealand Alliance
These forces were greatly strengthened during this period by the founding of the New Zealand Alliance for the Suppression and Prohibition of the Liquor Traffic, which was founded at a conference in Wellington in February 1886, Sir William Fox being elected the first president. The emergence of this national body gave new encouragement and unity to scattered groups throughout the country and it became possible, for the first time, to organise and press the demands of prohibitionists on a national scale.
These demands were stated succinctly in the alliance's constitution:
The abolition and prohibition of the liquor traffic in New Zealand by the direct vote of the people; and in order thereto,
To obtain from Parliament such legislation as will give the people absolute power over the liquor traffic.
To secure the return to Parliament of such candidates, irrespective of party, as will support these objects.
The stress on popular control of the trade and on political action was clear.
Public feeling in favour of prohibition grew apace in the eighties. The alliance carefully attuned its demands to the theme that popular control of the liquor trade should be extended as a democratic principle, and this found a ready response in the growing popular feeling that swept the Liberal administration into office in 1890. The campaign for female franchise also ran parallel with, and greatly assisted the alliance during the eighties. The Women's Christian Temperance Union, which was particularly powerful within the alliance, was also the prime mover in the campaign for votes for women.
The alliance also took more direct political action in attempting to pledge candidates at elections to vote for the legislation desired by the alliance. Candidates were asked to declare their views on the liquor question and it is significant that most of them evidently considered themselves obliged to make an answer that was, on the surface at least, satisfactory to the alliance. Prohibitionists were now an important force in the community and few candidates could afford to disregard them at elections. Consequently, the election of 1890 saw increased prohibition strength in Parliament, and the movement suddenly emerged as a major force on the political scene.
At first the Government endeavoured to resist the pressure for new licensing legislation. It had, however, a strong opponent in Sir Robert Stout, a leading figure in the alliance and a contender for the leadership of the Liberals. Stout introduced a Bill in 1893 to extend the triennial licensing polls to the issues of the abolition and reduction of licences, to be decided on a simple majority vote. At the same time Leonard Isitt toured the country demanding the passage of the Bill. Stout's Bill was shelved in the committee stages by only two votes. Faced with such a close call, the Government was obliged to act.