As we transition from being fully-funded and led by one person to a member-led movement, some culture change will be required within The Opportunities Party. Little wonder then, that a few within our ranks are raising concerns about our new ways of doing things.
So in the interests of radical transparency and doing politics differently, here is some detail on their concerns. Rather than listen to secrets and whispers, members and supporters are welcome to read this and make up their own minds. If you have any questions feel free to get in touch.
Naturally I would rather spend my time critiquing Government policy or communicating our own best practice, evidence informed ideas, but here we are.
The concerns raised include the following:
- Leader Pay
- Party finances
- Separation of governance and operations
- The power and conduct of volunteers within the Party
- Conduct of the leadership election
- Board changes
I will address each of these in turn.
1. Leader Pay
Around the leadership election in December 2018 the Board discussed paying the Leader. Finances were limited at the time (as we will discuss below) but the feeling was that the Leadership position needed full time focus and there had to be a recognition of the time involved. It was felt that a salary similar to a teacher – roughly $60,000 per annum was appropriate. This was communicated to members in an email on 21 December.
While the Party was still in set up phase and becoming financially sustainable the contract for Leader was subject to finance being available. This is completely normal in politics – after all you could be out of a job at any time.
A few people have challenged why a Party Leader needs a salary at all. I can assure you this is more than a full time job, and practically speaking , it would be very difficult to find alternative employment as Leader of a political party. Without that income I would need to stand down and find a job, and the vast majority of people I have spoken to within the Party don’t want that to happen.
2. Party Finances
This brings us to the issue of party finances. As previously communicated, this will be made fully transparent when we release our Campaign Strategy. We will also set out the minimum funding needed in order to mount a serious campaign in 2020.
Nonetheless, some are concerned that we are spending beyond our means, so here is an interim update. Accounting for all accounts payable, the Party currently has over $30,000 in the bank. During April we received over $8,500 in donations from almost 300 different donors. Core monthly expenses such as IT licenses etc are around $2,600. The Leader’s salary has never been above $5,000 per month. Based on current costs, the Party is financially sustainable.
However, I think we all recognise that our current efforts will not be enough to get us into Parliament in 2020. We need to be financially prudent, but we also need to take some risks in order to boost our profile and therefore our income. Donation income is uncertain and it may make sense to spend more than we earn in some months.
As mentioned above our Campaign Strategy will set out our spending plan going forward. In the short term, to be a contender in the next election we need to get back to our election night polling of 2-3% by early 2020. We have to do everything we can to achieve that goal. If we don’t there is no point having money sitting in the bank.
3. Separation of governance and operations
I am wearing a variety of hats within the Party at the moment. I am not happy about it, but during the set up phase of TOP 2.0 it has been all hands to the pump.
In the set up phase we haven’t been able to pay someone to run the organisation day to day. Therefore I offered the Board to take on the General Manager role as well as Leader. This has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes, but totally necessary to bed down the foundations of the Party and build the volunteer team. We now have an incredible team of volunteers in place in the national team and in our regional teams around the country. I am grateful for all the mahi that those talented people put in for the Party every day. It might take a couple more months to get this team fully fleshed out and humming, but it is worth it.
As soon as income allows we intend to appoint a paid General Manager so that I can hand over day to day operations to them and focus my attention on raising the profile of the Party and getting our policy and ideas out there.
As Leader I am also on the Board, and Chair of the Board. This is a hangover of the original Constitution we have inherited. My priority is to expand the Board to 5-6 people, then either hand the position of Chair over to someone else or step off the Board entirely. Constitutional changes may need to be considered, and since I was elected as Leader I have made it clear I want a full review of our Constitution to ensure it is fit for purpose given where we are headed as a Party.
4. The power and conduct of volunteers within the Party
The Opportunities Party is now a member-led movement, almost entirely powered by volunteers. A few people have raised concerns about volunteer conduct and how much say and sway these people have within the organisation.
Firstly to conduct. We are a new organisation with a new culture. We now have a clear set of values to guide our behaviour. The first expectation is that all volunteers and members adhere to promoting evidence-based policies. We are also developing role descriptions and policies for conduct covering such issues as bullying. Bullying is not acceptable in any form, and as a Party we have to be able to sit down and work issues through professionally and constructively.
However, I see this as a member-led movement. It is as much your party as it is mine, so of course our volunteers have a say. After all, they are the ones actually doing the work. If you want to shape it, get involved and help.
5. Conduct of the leadership election
I will attempt to explain briefly the complex background. So here is the guts without naming names: The Opportunities Party was given a $50,000 donation late in 2018. The donor took exception to the leadership election and wanted it shut down. They threatened legal action if this didn’t happen. Instead of shutting the election down, the Board chose to return the donation to the donor and continue the election process.
Despite the finances of the Party, I feel this was the right decision. Members have donated far more than $50,000 since The Opportunities Party was restarted in September 2018, so I felt they deserved a say. In my view we cannot transition to a member-led movement by continuing to completely acquiesce to the wishes of large funders.
Some claim that the election was not Constitutional but this is false. The Board has the power to elect the leader, but there is nothing in the Constitution that prevents the Board from holding an election as part of that process. I made it clear from the outset I wanted to see an election for the leadership. During the process the Board publicly promised to implement the outcome of the election in their leadership selection, and they did so.
The real reason that the leadership election was called into question had nothing to do with whether it was constitutional. It was because of the people taking part in the election. Some people have an opinion on who should have been able to run in the leadership election. My view is that this was up to the members to decide through the democratic process.
A few people have also claimed the election was rigged. The Board wanted to reboot TOP in 2019 and there was a lot to be done before then. There was an election to hold, and funding to raise but given all the kerfuffle around de-registering, we also needed to reinvigorate the troops. Some sort of outreach was needed to test the temperature of our members and supporters. The Board discussed whether to hold the election or the tour first, and decided to go with the tour. I had no part in this decision.
So I went on a tour of the country for four weeks. I didn’t get paid for it and was living on my savings. I did get my travel expenses reimbursed by the Party (about $800). The trip was a “Listening Tour” designed to get a sense of where members wanted the party to head, and what we could learn from the past. It was designed to energise the membership and volunteer base and get a sense of the Party’s vision and values.
Perhaps that gave me an unfair advantage in the election that came afterwards. However, it would have been quite difficult for any leadership candidate to know where members wanted to take the Party if we hadn’t done this. Bit of a catch 22.
The Board could have given more time to the election, but that would have pushed it into March or April 2019 before we even had a result. Not great for building towards 2020.
6. Board Changes
In March the Board had an opportunity to negotiate a potential funder. One of the conditions of that negotiation taking place was that the funder appointed someone they knew on the Board. This was an unusual request but some of the Board felt it was a good chance for the Party to obtain funding. Matt Isbister was appointed to the Board in place of Paddy Plunket, which members have already been informed of.
Negotiations with this potential funder collapsed almost immediately after the appointment was made. Matt Isbister has since stood down from the Board and will be replaced at the Board meeting on Monday.
As mentioned above, the plan is to enlarge the Board to 5-6 people as soon as possible.
If you have questions about any of this - I’m always free to talk with members and volunteers. You are all part of something extraordinary in New Zealand’s history. Now is our time to focus on the future, be the clever opposition, get the important ideas out there and the Opportunities Party into Parliament.
Looking backward is good for learning, but looking forward with purpose and resolve is the road we need to take.
Let’s ride. Together.