Rich blokes (and Winston) creating their own parties: a brief history

Blokes with big personalities (and often a lot of money, too) starting their own political party: it's been quite the thing in New Zealand. Here are some recent efforts, marked out of 10.

Blokes with big personalities (and often a lot of money, too) starting their own political party: it's been quite the thing in New Zealand. 

Gareth Morgan is just the latest in a long line (and it stretches further if you include Alan Gibbs, who has lurked in the shadows behind ACT).

Here's how some recent efforts have fared, with marks out of 10.

Bob Jones 8/10
You’ll remember, or course, that Labour won a landslide number of seats in 1984. But you might be surprised at the breakdown of the popular vote: David Lange’s party received a relatively modest 42.98% support and National 35.89%.

Bob Jones came in like a wrecking ball with his New Zealand Party taking 12.25% of the vote, splitting the right and helping Labour win a slew of marginal seats from the government.

Yet, Rob Muldoon was imploding in 1984. And Social Credit also did him damage, holding one National seat (East Coast Bays) and winning another (Pakuranga). If the New Zealand Party hadn’t been around, it’s quite possible that many National voters would have, as Mr Lange put it, held their noses and voted Labour.

We’ll never know.

But we do know that Bob (later Sir Bob) set himself one job: get rid of Sir Rob, and he achieved it. Mission accomplished, he exited stage left.

Winston Peters 4/10
Winston: so frightening on the campaign trail but so placid once in office with National and Labour respectively. Yes, he scored cheaper public transport for his blue-rinse base. But overall, a focus on cabinet rank rather than policy during MMP negotiations has helped keep things tame. When Helen Clark successfully pursued a free trade deal with China, he politely objected rather than trying to bring her government down.

The NZ First leader has proved masterful at firing up his core supporters but he has failed to cross over to middle New Zealand.

His party has been stuck in a tight range, receiving below 10% of the vote in seven of the past eight elections. Sure, the tail can wag the dog under MMP, but that’s where we came in ...

Colin Craig 4/10
He had the money, tipping more than $5 million of his fortune into his own party. He had a ready constituency: social conservatives who found John Key too liberal. And he had some punchy cross-over policies, such as his plan to seize land-bankers’ sections on the edges of Auckland if they weren’t developed into housing.

But whatever that regular bloke X factor is that John possesses, Colin lacks. And no amount of money can buy it (and there could be a lesson in there for Gareth Morgan, who also rubs a lot of people up the wrong way).

Still, he managed 3.97% of the vote in 2014, and probably only missed the 5% threshold as a last-minute scandal broke involving his press secretary. So he must earn a few points for coming so close.

Kim Dotcom 0/10
On paper, Dotcom is another example of you-can’t-buy votes. I say "on paper" because It was never obvious to NBR where the $5 million he donated to his Internet Party was spent. For a such a relatively brief campaign, the alleged pirate managed to cause an impressive amount of damage, overexposing his own “brand,” which he himself described as “toxic” post-election, narking on his one-time fund-raising buddy John Banks, turning partner Mana into collateral damage as Hone Harawira lost the party's sole seat and Internet-Mana got just 1.4% of the list vote, and destroying the credibility of various hangers-on (though Laila Harre is now making a concerted attempt to rehabilitate her political fortunes, this time with Labour).

Which brings us to Gareth Morgan
Gareth is often such an unlovable know-it-all. And yet, with his partner-in-crime Geoff Simmons (an ex-Treasury economist) so good at stirring debate on so many issues.

Yesterday, his party launch was far-and-away the highest rating story on NBR. The same would have been true on Herald and Stuff and he utterly dominated social media.

At one point yesterday, Mr Morgan compared himself to Mr Trump. The comparison is bogus. Mr Trump pitches himself as anti-establishment. And some of his views are, such as his opposition to free trade. But that’s incidental. The Republican’s primary modus operandi is to run with populist policies, a la Winston Peters here.

Mr Morgan, on the other hand, is quite happy to put up unpopular ideas. He backs himself to win an argument, usually with a two-hour whiteboarding session from Mr Simmons thrown in for anyone who wants to watch (another big contrast with Mr Trump, whose policies don’t extend beyond bumper-sticker one-liners).

My take is that if The Opportunities Party founder can focus tightly on a few issues, he’ll have a shot at 5%. House prices, immigration and asset sales are notable areas where there’s a lot of anxiety but opposition parties have struggled to capitalise.

But we could also see the messy, free-ranging Gareth, taking on too many issues (and the Herald has already tried to bait him with its Sun-like “Cat-killer” headline yesterday. He can be quite hardline on environmental issues – enough to alienate “blue-greens,” yet not quite hard enough for the Greens (who were openly hostile on Twitter yesterday).

And on issues like a universal benefit, Mr Morgan could be too progressive for the centrist voters, yet not enough to attract Labours.

Is there a place for him? Perhaps he doesn’t care if he makes 5%. It could just be that he wants a bigger pulpit.  

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