The disbandment of United Future earlier this week signalled the end of an era for a party that once challenged New Zealand First for the coveted role of ‘kingmaker' in New Zealand politics.
Tauranga city councillor Larry Baldock was among the seven list MPs leader Peter Dunne brought to parliament after the party's phenomenally successful 2002 election.
Back then, the party took advantage of electoral dissatisfaction with National, and picked up 6.69 per cent of the nationwide part vote.
Some 15 years later, the party recorded a pitiful 0.07 per cent in the 2017 election – lagging behind the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party and Ban 1080, among others.
Larry says the party's demise was ‘inevitable'.
“I think post-2008, when it became only Peter Dunne again, it was only a matter of time,” says Larry. “There was no real constituency for the party. It was just Peter being an electorate MP and calling himself a party leader.”
After the 2002 election, United Future chose to support the incumbent Labour government in a confidence and supply agreement.
“We got a lot of policy gains, but sadly with Peter leading as a liberal rather than a conservative, ultimately the conservative base that voted us in abandoned us.
“We dealt with some controversial legislation during that first term. We had the prostitution law reform and civil union bill, and whilst we voted against those things, our constituents saw us as supporting the Labour government, and that eroded our support base.”
He says Peter's support for the ‘anti-smacking' bill in 2007 was ‘anathema' to voters who initially supported United Future on the basis it was a party for families.
“I initially joined Future New Zealand, and prior to the 2002 election we were approached to form a coalition with Peter. He presented himself as wanting to form a family-oriented party, and it worked very well in 2002. But his definition of family turned out to be different to that of many of our voters.”
Larry did not return as a list MP in the 2005 election, and he soon left to lead the newly-formed Kiwi Party. Later, he joined Colin Craig's Conservative Party, standing as the party's candidate in Tauranga.
He believes there has always been an opportunity for a conservative, family-based party in New Zealand politics, but previous attempts have been ‘fraught with problems'.
“The Conservatives could have been it,' he says, :but Colin blew it out of the water. I don't know who could put it together now.
“It's become evident it's almost impossible for a new party to get through to five per cent. You need an electorate accommodation with either Labour or National.”
As for Larry, there's no indication he'll be taking another tilt at parliament any time soon.
“I'm just enjoying being a councillor.”
UNITED FUTURE IN TAURANGA
In Tauranga, United Future did well in the 2002 election, winning 9.56 per cent of the party vote, while the party's electorate candidate Larry Baldock placed fourth with 1647 votes.
It was the party's third-best party vote result in a single electorate that year, after Ohariu-Belmont (13.01 per cent) and East Coast Bays (9.62 per cent).
However, this was to be United Future's high-water mark in the traditionally safe National seat.
In 2005, the party vote in Tauranga fell to 4.47 per cent, and Larry, previously a list MP, did not make it back to parliament. In 2008 he stood unsuccessfully again as leader of the short-lived Kiwi Party, while United Future's party vote collapsed to 0.68 per cent in the city.
Support continued to decline, until United Future had its worst result in Tauranga in 2017, receiving only 40 party votes, or 0.09 per cent – less than half the votes received by the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party.