TOP, we hardly knew ye

Want to understand why Gareth morgan's TOP didn't work? Take a look at the world of professional wrestling. AKA Too woke for talkback town, too talkback for woke town.

The party is over. The Opportunities Party, that is. TOP has written to the Electoral Commissin requesting it be de-registered. It's quest for the dominance of evidence-based policy is done and dusted.

Founder Gareth Morgan blames the public. "What makes the New Zealand voter tick is clear," Morgan says - and he doesn't think it speaks well of them. They failed him and, by not electing TOP to Parliament, demonstrated indifference to policy brilliance.

In his statement giving up the ghost yesterday, he harrumphed, “The voting public demonstrated that best practice, evidence-informed policy is not of significant concern when deciding elections". 

Forgoing the indignity of trying to appeal to an undeserving electorate in 2020, Morgan and his troop of "political orphans" have shut up shop instead. Or, in the case of some, started exploring other vehicles with which to make the case for evidence-based politics.  

What lessons can we take from this ill-fated journey? Nothing too new, I'd argue. But there are some helpful reinforcements.

First, the five-per cent threshold ensures that being well-funded is not enough to get into Parliament.

Second, being famous will not secure sufficient votes to see you elected.

Third, the political media is not all that good at reading the electorate.

In professional wrestling, promoters will "push" a wrestler onto the fans. This involves booking the performer in more, higher profile matches. Whether hero or villain, a successful push makes the difference between whether you're a fading up-and-comer and the next WWE Superstar.

TOP and its leader were the beneficiaries of a big push last year. He was constantly in the news (often, but not always, playing the heel). Despite poor polling and the absence of a viable path into Parliament, TOP's chances were repeatedly talked up.

It was not uncommon to hear the opinion that there was a place in New Zealand politics for a bad-boy, evidence-based party. What was constantly overlooked was that these comments usually came from people who would be voting for Labour or the Greens. Those willing to give TOP the benefit of the doubt were rarely willing to give it the benefit of its vote.

And, really, this outcome was clear from the start. What was TOP's constituency? Where was its power base?

It was a populist movement whose leader displayed disdain for the stupidity of common voters. It was an anti-establishment party that was going to rise up against the entrenched way of doing things from its base in, er, bureaucratic Wellington. It railed against personality driven politics while earning free media on the basis of celebrity.

The muddled waywardness of TOP was there at its inception. Immediately following his announcement of the party, Morgan compared himself to Donald Trump. Then he took that back and said distanced himself from Trump. Finally, he said he was a bit like Trump.

This was all at the same press conference, by the way.

All of that may have been interesting to people addicted to what passes for the high drama of politics in our quiet corner of the world. But nobody else really cared - which is kind of important in an election.

Thus passes the worldly glory of The Opportunities Party.