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Author of his own party’s misfortune

Opinion Piece

The demise of Gareth Morgan’s TOP party is more proof that vanity parties have a short lifetime in New Zealand politics and that image is still very important.

Morgan announced last week that TOP, officially The Opportunities Party, had decided to dissolve and deregister itself.

While he snottily said the voting public had shown that well-planned, evidence-informed policy that would deliver real progress for New Zealand was not a concern for them, in many ways he was the author of his own misfortune.

Morgan clashed publicly with his own candidates and did the party immense harm with his “lipstick on a pig” comment about Jacinda Ardern, even though he claims the quote was deliberately misinterpreted. He compounded the error by putting it on giant billboards before the 2017 election.

What is interesting is that despite this classic own goal and Morgan’s propensity to get offside with sectors of the community, TOP still picked up 2.2 percent of the vote. How precious that would have been to National and Bill English.

While it showed once again that there is room for a new party to capture voters who do not share the views of the existing major ones, it was also another sign New Zealanders are habitually wary of parties that are based around the aura of one individual.

Winston Peters of course has his devoted as well as sometimes followers, and they delivered him a casting vote to decide our current Government, but otherwise you have to go back to 1984 for the success of such a party — when Bob Jones’ Libertarian NZ Party played a big part in the defeat of Robert Muldoon in the snap election. Having achieved his goal, Jones wisely dissolved the party.

While NZ First is on a high at the moment with Cabinet seats and its leader as acting Prime Minister, many question what will happen when Peters finally departs politics.

One party that does recognise the importance of its image is Labour, which has hired Wellington consultancy Double Denim for what it is calling a “brand check-up”. We can’t see anything too wrong with the brand ourselves at the moment, particularly that of its leader, but it probably pays to be sure.