OPINION: Gareth Morgan's announcement that he will be deregistering The Opportunities Party (TOP) and it will not contest the 2020 election may not spell the end of the movement.
- Gareth Morgan's The Opportunities Party folds
- Gareth Morgan 'disappointed' with 'selfish' New Zealanders
The idea the "board" of TOP made the decision is of course a fallacy - it was Morgan who pulled the plug and under the Party's current constitution he has total say over who is on the board and what they decide.
Rightly or wrongly, since its inception TOP was Gareth Morgan's baby, he fully funded the party, paid for the development of its policies and invested huge amounts of time and energy into barnstorming the country to spread the TOP message.
It was a message that in a year got 60,000 votes, and had it not been for Jacindamania could have seen TOP make the five percent threshold. At its core TOP was a progressive party seeking a more equitable New Zealand through policies based on sound research and an absence of entrenched political dogma.
TOP also lacked political correctness and its core staff, who were largely employees of one or other of Morgan's organisations, were bereft of any vestige of virtue signalling liberalism. That didn't always sit well with new supporters and candidates, some of whom seemed fixated with the notion that being in politics was all about asserting who they were, not what they would do if elected.
Raw pragmatism was TOP's persona, reflecting the spirit of the man who founded and funded it. It was that sense of telling like it was to packed halls up and down the country that engaged so many volunteers and members and won the party a disproportionate amount of attention during the campaign.
But in truth Morgan didn't want to be in Parliament, he rejected the idea of standing in Epsom, telling me he couldn't do it because "What would happen if I won?".
The party had other stars, like economist Geoff Simmons. He cut a swathe through university lecture halls with his "an economy based on bidding each other up on real estate is f*cking crazy!" message resonating amongst educated youth who seemed to realise they were getting a hospital pass from the baby boomers. Abe Grey quit the Legalise Cannabis Party to champion a genuine drug reform policy, and hundreds of volunteers and workers gave their all in what was sometimes a chaotic environment.
TOP was full of energy, creativity and,alas, a fair dose of naivety, but it got cut through - particularly with young, educated urban voters and Maori.
As the policies were all properly costed and rigorously researched, TOP didn't get much criticism on that front. Instead its detractors (overwhelmingly the liberal left) did what they often do and played the man, in this case Dr Morgan.
TOP had no policy on cats but that didn't matter - it was a stick to beat Morgan with, as was the faux outrage over "lipstick on a pig", which unfortunately gained traction internally with some of the aforementioned naïve members who refused to be rational about it.
Being involved in politics comes at a cost and, while he is unlikely to admit it, Morgan cannot have been immune to the vitriol and pettiness (often conveyed through social media) he attracted. As is Morgan's style, a direct and blunt blowback was the response - adding fuel to whatever fire of political correctness his opponents were seeking to spark.
Since the election Morgan has attempted in several different ways to transition the party from the perceived rich man's hobby to a more sustainable and less dictatorial organisation. A new high-profile leader was recruited, and work was proceeding to launch him and TOP.2 early next year.
It was that individual's decision to pull out of the role, made for totally justified personal reasons, that was the final nail in TOP's coffin. With no desire to remain as leader himself and unable to reach an accommodation with anyone else that would satisfy his criteria, despite being willing to continue financing the project Morgan pulled the plug.
If TOP had any semblance of membership-driven authority that wouldn't have been his decision to make alone.
Those who were inspired and motivated by the type of politics TOP sought to promote now have a clear choice. They can revert to picking from the established political players and cynically write-off TOP as the cat man's pet project, or pick up the torch and give it another crack.
Sean Plunket was TOPs Director of Media and Communications during the 2017 election.