5 Tips on Talking Politics in a TOP way

They say that it is rude at a dinner party to bring up money, religion or politics. Well, we want you to break that rule. As history has shown it is really hard setting up a political party. Reaching the 5% threshold is a huge challenge for newcomers. Even more difficult is the fact that we are trying to reach that goal on the back of evidence-based policy, rather than personality, polling and populist ideas.


If The Opportunities Party is to be a success, people need to start talking about politics. At dinner parties, the water cooler, online or at the pub, it doesn’t matter. Here are five tips on how to talk about policy to your friends.

1. Be Nice

Change is scary. Humans tend to overestimate the downsides of change, and underestimate the upsides. If someone thinks they have something to lose from a change, they might initially react with fear, or even anger. So it is important to be nice.

Most people think they are doing the right thing in life, and they certainly don’t set out to do nasty things. Generally they are just responding to the incentives that surround them. Challenging the status quo is important, but we have to do it without making people feel ‘bad’ for the choices they’ve made. If we have to lay blame for the problems in our society, blame the rules of the game, not the players.

2. Talk ideas and policy, not personality

Don’t get bogged down in the detail. Just think about the principles. Is our current way of doing things fair? Are we delivering the best possible economic, social and environmental outcomes? Can we do better with some smart thinking? 

These days we are beset on all sides by personality politics. Public relations and communication advisers swarm around Government Ministers and Opposition MPs, trying to manage people’s perceptions of them.

I doubt anyone is following The Opportunities Party because of my personality, but just in case you are, let’s be clear: it isn’t about that. The Opportunities Party will not provide a refuge for career politicians. This is about making change to policy, not ego. So keep the conversation on point by talking policy, not personality.

3. Stick to the Evidence

If you disagree with someone, it might be because you don’t think their idea will work. If that is the case, tell them why. Cite the evidence if you can; that is the great thing about the internet, this stuff is so easy to find.

4. Avoid name calling and pointless Left/Right tribalism 

I’ve been called a socialist, communist, anarchist, neo-liberal… you name it. The Establishment parties feed off this sort of tribalism; people vote for them because of which team they want to be part of.

Name-calling and pigeon holing people is pretty tiresome and brainless stuff. The modern world has moved on from these simple categories and labels. It is about time politics did too.

If you disagree with someone, take a moment to consider why. If it is not because of the evidence as stated above, then it is probably because of your values. Can you clarify why you disagree by talking about what you do value? If you value something like freedom, what does that mean? The total absence of government interventions and public institutions, or government providing the basic means for people to achieve their own goals? What would a world look like if everyone had your values?

5. If you disagree, you still have your vote

At the end of the day, everyone is equal; one person one vote. The Opportunities Party only needs 100,000 votes to make it into Parliament. We don’t need to convince the whole country. So if someone doesn’t like what we have to say, that is fine, they can vote for someone else! There is no point trying to flog a dead horse. Leave them to the status quo Establishment parties with the Lao Tzu quote:

“If you don’t change direction, you may end up where you are headed.”


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Showing 46 reactions

  • duncan cairncross
    commented 2016-11-21 22:50:35 +1300
    Another excellent article – and a LOT shorter
  • duncan cairncross
    commented 2016-11-21 22:32:50 +1300
    Hi Guys (and Gals)
    Interesting article on the Evonomics website

    It’s a bit long but it kind of links in with what Gareth says
  • Seann Paurini
    commented 2016-11-21 16:28:51 +1300
    Hi Matt W, thanks for your posts to me. Lots of good stuff to think about. I live in Wellington – although I’m away at the mo because my apartment is stuffed by the earthquake – and I’m slightly terrified …but I can’t wait until there’s some very good, needed, focused conversations held. A lot to think on. Hope to meet some people at the first public gathering.
  • Elizabeth Sneyd
    commented 2016-11-21 13:06:09 +1300
    On a different theme….I’m really keen on hearing more about TOP’s social and education policy. If you have money, it’s fine ‘cause you can buy educational opportunities for your kids eg. you can buy them a violin and hire a private teacher. If not, your child’s educational opportunities and extra-curricular activities are severely constrained. Given the evidence-based benefits of music education, particularly learning an instrument, I’d love to brainstorm ideas to create fairer access to quality music education.
  • Gordon Ngai
    commented 2016-11-21 07:32:16 +1300
    Perhaps we should be learning from the winner – Steve Bannon, chief strategist for the incoming administration of USA -paticularly on jobs.
  • duncan cairncross
    commented 2016-11-20 19:46:50 +1300
    Hi Matt
    I agree with you we need to actually analyse the effects of various policies – there is no such thing as a completely free market or completely free trade
    It certainly appears to me that countries that have put more restriction on both appear to have done considerably better – not frozen them completely – but the optimum, condition would appear to be a more restricted trade and market

    We need to do the analysis (several people to get a fair view) and then discuss the results – NOT fall blindly into “the freer the better”
  • Matt Walkington
    commented 2016-11-20 18:43:03 +1300
    The search for evidence to back up policy ideas inevitably leads to questions that others are not prepared to ask. The questions challenge the status quo: the existing power structures, the current ways of doing things or the accepted ideologies.

    For example, questioning the doctrine of free trade and market economics is a definite challenge in NZ. It’s as if we have so much invested in policies based on these ideologies that it’s disloyal or even treasonous to question them. You have to almost swear in blood that you are pro-free trade to be taken seriously. It’s a ridiculous situation and one that is completely at odds with evidence based policy. If we have so much based on these ideas it ought to be that we are deeply informed about the supporting evidence. Anything else amounts to sunk-cost fallacy or straight out denial.

    In fact, when I have looked at the evidence it’s not clear at all that the “sound economics” of free trade, deregulation and free markets is a silver bullet for economic success. Despite the work of Adam Smith and others, history seems to indicate otherwise, with many nations having successfully used isolationism and protectionism to build strong economies. The clearest example is the US that used resource monopolisation, high tariffs and other protectionism – anything but sound economics – from the Declaration of Independence up until after WW2. Other examples include England, Germany, Japan, and Korea. There are others.

    New Zealand is also an example that asks questions about free trade, the so-called “NZ Paradox”. We have pursued “sound economics” with vigor since the Lange Government in the 1980s but remain largely locked into a limited range of export production where we have always has a comparative advantage (primary products and commodities, and tourism). First colonialism and now free trade seem to have help to hold back the development of a more diverse economy. It’s interesting to compare NZ exports

    with exports of Sweden for example

    Coming back to the point I was trying to illustrate: you would think that such an important issue to our country would be the subject of deep analysis and searching public debate. However, my experience is that asking such questions is often met with straight out abuse or an ideological stone wall. Occasionally I can get into a reasonable discussion of the evidence but it usually ends up along the lines “the free trade genie is well and truly out of the bottle and there’s no way to put it back”.

    It will be very interesting to see how hard Mr Trump tries to re-bottle the genie in the US, how it affects us in NZ and how we respond.
  • Matt Walkington
    commented 2016-11-20 13:51:32 +1300
    Seann Paurini: fair enough. Yes, it’s really important in factual discussions to explain why something is common sense, if at all possible, or at least invite others to fill in the details.

    For example, somehow (either by nurture or nature) I grew up with the notion that social solidarity, a fair go and mutual help for all, was common sense (so that people happily pay tax, support measures and actively contribute to helping out other people).

    That’s common sense to me because it leads to social cohesion and we are all better off.

    However, if it ever was common sense to all, since the 1980s it’s become increasingly clear that there is a significant group of people for whom social solidarity is no longer a priority and that it has been well an truly be trumped by the doctrine of individuality, personal responsibility and related classical or economic liberal concepts.

    It’s common sense to me that the called by some “Golden Years” of neoliberalism have allowed all kinds of excesses of power and wealth concentration at the expense of social solidarity. But I’m also sure I can find people who would disagree wholeheartedly with any assertion that conclusion was common sense.

    Anyway, good on you, I imagine we will have a lot of common ground.
  • Gillian Pollock
    commented 2016-11-20 10:02:43 +1300
    All that will ‘save’ this world are extensive healthy forests and wetlands, and thriving habitats. If this becomes the ‘top’ consideration for all policies it will become apparent that population numbers need controlling so that they fit comfortably into the environment and that throw-away goods should no longer be produced.
    A caring switched-on society will want all children to have a wonderful childhood so second ‘top’ priority is to educate parents. Ensure the best education for parents and teachers as they more than anything control the quality of thinking of the next generation.
  • Jack Hailstone
    followed this page 2016-11-20 09:38:03 +1300
  • Seann Paurini
    commented 2016-11-20 09:03:59 +1300
    Matt W I meant ‘common sense’ as in the five points above. They seem reasonable in a way many people might agree with irrespective of their background. Just people in general. No suggestion of the discrimination.
  • Brian MacCormack
    commented 2016-11-19 20:45:20 +1300
    I like what I’ve read so far. It’s so good to hear from someone who isn’t a career politician.
  • Josko Sestan
    commented 2016-11-19 17:04:02 +1300
    Looking forward to the evidence based political agenda.

    The worst condition I see out of our political system is ‘hierarchy’ which has infused a corrupt edict into our processes. If we are to move forward, if we are to address the visionary change required by the fast approaching future we need a new political paradigm.

    One with no government. We can utilize technology in a process for self governance.

    Let’s see the policy. Let’s change the agenda. But ultimately to remove the personality politics, to remove the labels we will need to remove hierarchy.
  • Josko Sestan
    followed this page 2016-11-19 16:50:15 +1300
  • Camilla Cox
    commented 2016-11-19 16:10:48 +1300
    And yet, Wallace Gordon, when it suits, the government chooses to let industry do its own regulating… and lo and behold we get rid of mines inspectors, or let the alcohol industry determine policy. And who pays to pick up the pieces?
  • Oliver Krollmann
    commented 2016-11-19 14:45:04 +1300
    Thanks for your example, Wallace, I get the idea. I couldn’t manage to find an explanation for the term online.
  • Wallace Gordon
    commented 2016-11-19 14:20:38 +1300
    Oliver. In response to your question, in simplistic terms industrial exclusion is when and industry is excluded from the decision making process that affects the manner in which it operates. The silence and the imposition of regulation and legislation which the industry doesn’t agree with.
    For example back in 2011 two plumbers went to the Regulations Review Committee (RRC) and won a case regarding Notices issued by the Plumbers Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board. The RRC recommended parts of the notices be disallowed. The Government members of the RRC then walked across the corridors of Parliament and voted against the recommendations they had just made.

    A complaint to the Ombudsman was quickly followed by retrospective legislation being passed by the Government. The then Plumbers Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board refused to meet or communicate with fractions of the industry.

    How do you fight against a “BLANK PAGE”? The industry gets told nothing until it’s too late and then it’s full on battle again. The Government, Ministers and advisers such as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment use this industrial exclusion to impose their will.

    As background the plumbing gasfitting and drainlaying industry fund the industry regulation 100%. The Minister of Building and Housing appoints the Board members and of late positions on the Board have not been advertised taking away the opportunity for industry members to get on the Board. The industry pays 100% for the investigation and prosecution of non authorised people who do their own sanitary plumbing gasfitting or drainlaying. That’s like asking a policeman to pay to prosecute criminals just because the person chose to be a policeman.
  • Camilla Cox
    commented 2016-11-19 12:46:17 +1300
    Seann, I hear your view on what being Left means. But I don’t think, apart from the Green Party, we HAVE a left any more. Both National and Labour claim the centre (for well studied political reasons) but I feel the whole bell curve has moved substantially to the right on the back of the dominant neo-liberal paradigm. Like in the US, in NZ the two L and R main parties are virtually indistinguishable and both tarred by the brush of allowing capital to determine policy for short term gain at the expense of the bulk of the population and long term sustainability. Successive governments have stacked their departments for so long with people who believe that efficiency is a goal in itself and private enterprise is the best way to deliver (Go Sirco!) that there seems to be no debate about it. Anything actually Left gets labelled extreme in this context, when really it’s just the old centre!
  • Murray Pearce
    commented 2016-11-19 12:45:23 +1300
    If TOP policies reflect what comes out of the Morgan Foundation then ethics and not vested interest will be the rudder that will determine the course navigated
  • Oliver Krollmann
    commented 2016-11-19 12:42:12 +1300
    I don’t quite agree with your last two statements, Matt. I don’t think common sense and evidence are mutually exclusive when it comes to policy making. For example it’s common sense that if you burn through a vast repository of fossil fuels that took millions of years to form in less than two hundred years then it will have some profound effects, which has since been corroborated by evidence.
    Also, not making policy because of conflicting or contradictory evidence might be too overcautious to address urgent or overdue issues. TOP state that they want to address the uncomfortable questions, which means you might have to take a stance to get things started, even if there was some doubt as to the evidence in favour of that position. That doesn’t mean you cannot adjust or even change the position later if stronger evidence to the contrary comes to light and swings it around. We must not shy away from taking action where needed, just because there’s even a small risk of making a mistake – otherwise we’ll just get more of the same, like now, where many people prefer to cover their backside. And we didn’t get to the point where we are now in our evolution by not taking the odd bold action or risk.
  • Matt Walkington
    commented 2016-11-19 11:58:56 +1300
    I certainly agree with a comment below that evidence can be contradictory.

    One approach is simply not to have set policy where there isn’t clear evidence or a clear measure to weigh up the pros and cons. That doesn’t preclude having policy options or a policy that is to obtain more evidence.
  • Matt Walkington
    commented 2016-11-19 11:41:55 +1300
    It was interesting to read what seemed like attacks on feminism and appeals to common sense in the comments on this page. In my opinion, TOP ought to stand up for fair treatment of all types, the evidence being that marginalising and treating certain groups unfaily is a loss to the society as a whole.

    Basing policy on common sense is surely the opposite of using evidence, so I hope TOP avoids heading in that popularist direction.
  • Matt Walkington
    followed this page 2016-11-19 10:16:56 +1300
  • Bob
    followed this page 2016-11-18 19:59:29 +1300
  • Seann Paurini
    commented 2016-11-18 18:13:35 +1300
    Refreshing and serious advice. I’m philosophically far left but for years I’ve known to use ideas/ideals as a guide only – a way of living day to day but not imposing on people. Its like ‘leading by example’ but without ego. So I’ve always associated the Left with caring about people, being reasonable, logical, sharing, acknowledging talent and originality and nurturing people who are great at what they do, not falling into line, NEVER “respecting” bullying authority, trying to understand it and question it when necessary (sometimes ignoring it!) respecting any person with authoritative experience, expert knowledge and humility; someone who is able to have a conversation with anyone, no matter their background etc. But that’s not the Left we have today – for the last 25-35 years the official Left has been very laden with ego, arrogance and bullying ideological standpoint activism. I never talk in terms of ideology with people when it comes to politics now – ideology definitely influences me but it doesn’t help preaching to people at all. My aim is to make things better for people, no matter who they are – I’ll say it. I think ‘common sense’ is important and there is such a thing and we can all decide what it means as we’re working together. Ethics, truthfulness, concern for each other, they’re very simple things and in this technology/digital/social media/marketing/“shop non-stop” era I think it could be useful to revisit such fundamental ideas and ideals.
  • Jane Allison
    commented 2016-11-18 18:08:12 +1300
    Very interested in seeing the policies. I have like most of what you have been doing. However, you need help with Health. Sorry guys (being nice here) but Health Cheque missed the whole topic of the cost drivers in the way services are organised which is a regulatory and policy subject. Happy to help with this, Jane
  • Peter Coburn
    followed this page 2016-11-18 17:58:09 +1300
  • Tiaria Fletcher
    commented 2016-11-18 17:48:49 +1300
    Okay so far so good….I like what I am reading here. This requires a paradigm shift as we’ve become so ingrained in tribal politics defining opposing sides of a spectrum of values – business/corporate versus people/community….fairness/social justice versus profit/inequality. I’ve been trying to find a “political” fit for my values and issues that I care about and are important to me….and it seems to get harder as I grow older. “Blame the rules of the game not the person” “Challenge the status quo but not through making people feel bad about their choices” – makes sense. I’m in :)
  • Camilla Cox
    commented 2016-11-18 17:28:49 +1300
    Cool. Just remember though Gareth that “evidence” can be contradictory and a whole lot less absolute than economists sometimes seem to think. It’s easy to gather “evidence” of the fiscal effect of a policy, much much harder to get evidence of the environmental or social or cultural impacts, especially if one insists on standard CBA methodology and a “political” focus on the election cycle. Looking forward to seeing the policy direction and detail.
  • John Hayman
    followed this page 2016-11-18 17:15:02 +1300