An Open Invitation to form a Political Party with Principles - Gareth Morgan

Since the announced closure of TOP there has been a flood of comment, gossip, hypotheses and even advice on how to resurrect that party. Almost all of that 3rd party conjecture is blissfully unaware of what the purpose of that political party actually was. I don’t expect clarification to have any impact on the acuity of the political gossip columnists and purveyors of fake news, but setting the record straight (once again) might at least enlighten some as to the agenda


  1. There was never any ambition to be a parliamentary party that advocated anything but that which was contained in our policy manifesto.
  2. The party structure was never designed to facilitate a democratic process within it. Of course we recognise that democratic process is the nature of parliament’s workings and the way voters decide on the composition of the next MMP government. But our rules never suggested that TOP itself would ever aspire to be a free-for-all democracy internally. For the founders, the policy manifesto was the be-all and end-all of the party’s purpose and that document is best practice, not a consensus view of non-experts.
  3. Construction of the initial manifesto was the culmination of 10 years work by a number of academic and expert authors. The policy was never the result of a compromise and horse-trading amongst non-expert political aspirants. The intention with TOP was always to have policy developed that way – for it to be the output of best practice as defined by the policy advisory and research community.
  4. The role of party members and candidates was to sell those policies to the public-at-large not to write the policy. Then once elected, the task for our MPs would be to do their upmost to get as much of it implemented as possible. It is at that stage and not before, that the workings of representative democracy would be able to influence what finally emerged as policy. The idea here is that parliament gets presented with best practice policy and if then it decides to dilute it to suit the interests of various sector groups, then that would be for all to see. In other words the transparency of parliament and the accountability of MPs would be vastly improved.

 This approach to constructing a radically different political party was clear to most of us and not taken seriously by a few. In other words there were a few candidates (probably about 5 of the 26) who on the one hand said they understood these principles but in reality their actions told us loudly what their aspirations really were. These included ambition to make policy on the hoof, to change the party’s governing rules to a democratic one where weight of numbers as opposed to weight of science decided the policy offerings TOP would advocate; deciding by committee how the funding (provided by others) would be spent; deciding how the campaign would be run … and so on. In other words they wished to belong to a conventional Establishment party that is tremendously democratic on the inside and promotes policy that is a mess, seldom coherent or effective – because it has been compromised by debates amongst non-experts on the way to the manifesto.

Those views were given short shrift and their authors told to honour TOP’s principles of policy excellence, and the party constitution that they had signed up to, or move along.

Then of course there’s the political gossip community within the media in NZ. Ill equipped to consider anything but yet another Establishment party norm these folk seldom discussed the policy at all, it seemed totally beyond their capability. Because of that they never even got past first base in understanding what the TOP initiative actually was about. Instead they assumed as given that the party would do what ever was needed in order to capture more votes. Nothing could have been further from reality. We weren’t there to ingratiate ourselves to voters, to compete in any charm offensive. Our offering was policy excellence, take it or leave it. We actively told people to vote for other parties when their prejudice was clearly a barrier to objectivity.

This bamboozled low level Press hacks. And still they write columns saying if we’d only done this, or done that we’d have been more successful. Clear from those utterances is their ignorance of our bottom line – doing nothing is better than compromised policy that purports to deliver something that it cannot possibly. Yes this is what Establishment parties do every day, and what TOP has no interest in being part of.

Since our closure I have invited whoever is interested in best practice policy (as defined by the consensus of the policy research and advisory community, not by compromises between groups of know-little politicians in political parties), to form such a party and if they are sold on TOP’s best practice policies then I’d be happy to supply funding in return for an undertaking of no compromises on this– until they’re in parliament at least.

It will be interesting to see if any group can actually get its act together. There are plenty of aspirants who just want to be politically active, but from what I’ve seen to date very few who have any policy expertise and will stand up to the compromising that has destroyed the effectiveness of policy in New Zealand and made our democracy so impotent when it comes to improving all New Zealanders’ lives.



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