COMMENT: Occasionally, you hear about a brilliant idea that was well and truly screwed from the outset.
You sit there scratching your head, wondering how seemingly intelligent people could get something so promising so badly wrong. Then, as time relentlessly marches on, other great ideas come along – hopefully with better execution (and PR) plans – and you forget all about it.
The Opportunities Party (2017-2018, RIP) was one of those doomed ideas.
Initially, I thought it had value. As a young-ish politics nerd who is a fan of empirical research and who will happily argue the merits of policy with friends and family (much to their annoyance), I liked the idea of an evidence-led political party. I admired and respected many of the experts who advised the party on its policies. In the early days of TOP, I waited with bated breath to see what the party would come up with. Then it morphed into the Gareth-Morgan-and-Sean-Plunket Show.
And what a show it was.
Who could forget the "lipstick on a pig" palaver? If attention was what Morgan was after, he got it. All of a sudden, evidence-based politics was the last thing anyone wanted to talk about.
The "lipstick on a pig" billboards the party produced in the aftermath of Morgan's metaphorical clanger might've had something to do with it. It's hard to move on from damaging accusations of sexism when your party is placing billboards with the offending phrase emblazoned across them.
In the days immediately after the "lipstick on a pig" saga, both Morgan and Plunket showed up in my Twitter feed often. According to Morgan, I was a "2 bit blogger" and a "lightweight", though Plunket assured me that Gareth wanted to have a "respectful debate" with me, an invitation he repeated over several tweets before calling me an "abuser" when I'd declined.
It was all, of course, a storm in a teacup. It was an unpleasant experience to be on the other end of, but mostly I just wondered what a wannabe politician and his PR advisor were doing wasting their time tweeting at a "lightweight 2 bit blogger" when there was an election campaign to run.
As time went on, such methods of conversation became something of a theme. In my opinion, if there was one thing that was overwhelmingly responsible for hammering the nails into TOP's coffin, it was its habit of talking at people, rather than engaging with them.
In politics, it's not enough to say, "I'm right, you're wrong, everyone else is wrong, change your mind and vote for me or you're a moron." Unsurprisingly, that doesn't seem to fly very well with the New Zealand public.
As such, the NZ public became the bane of TOP's existence. In the recent press release announcing the demise of the short-lived political movement, Gareth Morgan summed up his party's failure thusly:
"The voting public demonstrated that best practice, evidence-informed policy is not of significant concern when deciding elections. When 20 per cent of the vote moves in 48 hours simply on the back of a change of leader, with no improvement at all in policy being offered, what makes the New Zealand voter tick is clear."
He was more, ahem, direct in an interview with The Spinoff. "The electorate is too fat, content and complacent to respond to radical policy change, albeit policy that without question is of superior quality, evidence-informed and theoretically sound."
He was only just getting started. "[The electorate] said, 'thanks but no thanks, we get our jollies from popularity contests not policy excellence'." Morons, he might as well have added.
"The contest them (sic) reduces to one of whose charm the public falls for most. Pathetic, but that is the outcome from an uncaring, self-centred electorate that always wants someone else to blame for their own inadequacies."
You could be forgiven for wondering just why Morgan went into politics, if he thought that voters were such a pack of selfish, Machiavellian, unthinking dolts. Why bother?
I can understand his hatred of popularity contests, though. When you are the kind of person who turns the death of someone's pet cat into a political stoush, popularity votes must really bite. As Morgan learnt, it's difficult to get people to vote for you when you make it difficult for them to like you.
The lingering impression I have of the great political experiment that was The Opportunities Party is of a crew of passionate, well-meaning and skilled flight attendants aboard a plane piloted by a captain and first officer who were motivated more by the desire to fix the big problems of aviation than treating the passengers boarding the plane with respect and gratitude.
There was no "thank you for flying with Air Morgan", as passengers disembarked.
Treating people with human decency, talking with them as equals and sharing a dream with them that they can get behind doesn't bring the kind of glory that taking credit for solving society's most vexing problems does. It does, however, win elections, and sadly, if politics is to be the vehicle, you can't solve society's problems with 2 per cent of the vote.
The Opportunities Party didn't fail because voters were self-serving idiots, it failed because its leader was utterly incapable of inspiring people. The fact that Labour's leader was so immensely skilled at captivating and motivating voters only served to highlight the contrast further.
At the end of the day, people don't vote for theoretically sound policies, they vote for people they trust. They trusted Jacinda Arden and Bill English. They didn't trust Gareth Morgan.
And so the dream is over. The splendid vision of an evidence-based party may well live on, but it's fairly safe to assume that Gareth Morgan's opportunity to influence the course of NZ politics, in the House at least, is over.
The House, after all, is the people's House. Educated, uneducated, selfish, caring, complacent or otherwise, Parliament belongs to the people.
And the people have spoken.