1983 New Zealand Labour Party leadership election

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1983 New Zealand Labour Party leadership election
Labour L Logo.png
← 1980 3 February 1983 1988 →
  David Lange (1992).jpg Russell Marshall.jpg
Candidate David Lange Russell Marshall
Popular vote 33 9
Percentage 78.57% 21.43%

Leader before election

Bill Rowling

Leader after election

David Lange

On 3 February 1983, a New Zealand Labour Party leadership election was held to determine the leadership of the New Zealand Labour Party. The leadership was won by Mangere MP David Lange, who had been Deputy Leader of the party since 1979.


The leadership election was instigated when Bill Rowling announced his retirement from the leadership to the Labour caucus in late 1982.[1] Labour's caucus had been divided between the supporters and critics of Rowling. Backers of Rowling (notably Jim Anderton, Helen Clark and Fran Wilde) supported him out of their shared faith in Labour's traditional Keynesian policies which others opposed. Lange's main support were from MPs who saw Rowling as merely an impediment to their own ambitions to implement newer economic policy along globalized free market lines.[2]


David Lange[edit]

After entering parliament in a 1977 by-election, Lange became Labour's rising star. He used the unusually high media attention from this to propel him to the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party in 1979.[2] Lange narrowly missed ousting Rowling in 1980, with him and his group of free market economic supporters (Roger Douglas, Michael Bassett, Richard Prebble and Mike Moore) becoming known as the "Fish and Chip Brigade" due to a picture published at the time with the group eating Fish and chips in Douglas' office after the vote.[3] Lange became recognised by many to be more than a match for the tiring Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, with his superb wit and debating skill.[2]

Russell Marshall[edit]

Marshall entered Parliament in 1972 as the MP for Wanganui. He had served as Labour's Senior Whip in 1977-78. He was one of several people courted by Rowling's supporters to attempt to head off Lange. He declared his intention to run on 18 January after other potentials had pulled out. According to Michael Bassett, Marshall was the only one who remained bold enough to challenge Lange on the day of the vote.[4]

Colin Moyle[edit]

Colin Moyle had been informed by Rowling that he intended to resign. Moyle had previously been seen as leadership potential since the 1970s, with even Muldoon considering him to be a threat to him, resulting in the infamous Moyle Affair, where Moyle ended up resigning his seat, ironically to be won by Lange.[5] Moyle attempted to rally Rowling's supporters at a meeting in Auckland, though attendance was low. He took this as a sign and then informed Lange he would not stand on assurances Lange was healthy enough for the job. Moyle was mindful of Norman Kirk's health deterioration a decade earlier, but Lange said he was fighting fit.[4]


A caucus vote was held on 3 February 1983 where Lange defeated his sole opponent Russell Marshall 33 votes to 9. With the Deputy Leadership now vacant a vote was held for that position. It was much closer with the more moderate Geoffrey Palmer winning by one vote, 22 to 21 over the more free market friendly Mike Moore, who was Lange's preferred candidate.[4]

Leadership ballot[edit]

Candidate Votes %
David Lange 33 78.5
Russell Marshall 9 21.4
Majority 24 57.1
Turnout 42 N/A

Deputy-leadership ballot[edit]

Candidate Votes %
Geoffrey Palmer 22 51.2
Mike Moore 21 48.8
Majority 1 2.3
Turnout 43 N/A


Lange led Labour until 1989 when he too resigned. The retiring Rowling served as Lange's Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. Barely over a year later, during the snap election of 1984 Lange and Labour fought an excellent campaign winning a landslide victory. Labour held a 17-seat majority. At 41 years old, Lange became New Zealand's youngest prime minister of the 20th century.[2]


  1. ^ Henderson, John. "Rowling, Wallace Edward". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d Gustafson, Barry. "Lange, David Russell". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2016.
  3. ^ "Photo of the Fish and Chip Brigade in 1980 in Douglas' office; Bassett, Douglas, Lange and Moore". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 13 July 2013. Retrieved 23 April 2016.
  4. ^ a b c Bassett 2008, p. 77.
  5. ^ Lange 2005, p. 103-6.