Last week, eccentric investor Gareth Morgan announced a new political party. Morgan- famous for offering money for kiwis to kill feral cats, has called his new project The Opportunities Party (TOP). TOP is concerned that politicians are unwilling to make real change, and many kiwi’s are lacking the opportunities they may have had in the past. In a video on the TOP website Morgan goes so far to say that TOP is being created to ‘light a fuse’ under parliament. Pledging to blow up the halls of power is an unorthodox move, but is this new project as radical as the rhetoric?
It is hard to actually know what TOP stands for. At present there is very little of substance available on what this new party would actually do. The TOP website has no policies, instead has three pages- ‘Vision’, ‘Issues’ and a blow by blow life story of Gareth Morgan. The ‘Issues’ comes closest to articulating what this new party may campaign around:
“We believe that government policies should provide:
- Opportunities for all to participate fully in society
- Opportunities for all to participate fully in the economy – whether through starting a business, paid or unpaid work
- Opportunities for all to enjoy our beautiful nature
- Opportunities for all to own their own home
- Opportunities for all to get educated
- Opportunities for all to lead healthy lives
- Opportunities for New Zealand to articulate our unique identity”
As slogans this all sounds nice- how could anyone be against opportunities?
The problem with this is the closer these slogans get to the real world, the harder they are to hold together.
The reality is that New Zealand/Aotearoa is not a cohesive society with everyone working together. Class and race divisions run deep- and these tensions cannot simply be dissolved by ensuring an ‘opportunity for all’.
The reality is that there are plenty of opportunities, but they have only gone to a small part of society. It is not enough to just say ‘more opportunities’, a political project will have to be willing to critique and challenge deep structures of political and economic power.
For example- opportunities already today exists for some people to take out a business loan set up a company- say a fast food franchise. This business owner will see hiring people for minimum wage as offering an ‘opportunity’ to work. But maybe these workers will want to take up an opportunity to join a union and go on strike for better pay. Who’s opportunities come first- the opportunity to maximize the profit of a business, or the opportunity to get a decent income from your work?
Similar dynamics will flow through all the issues that TOP wants to address. Does the opportunity to own a home trump the opportunity of wealthy people to invest in housing- just like Gareth Morgan did? Public Health and education can be dramatically improved, but this will require more funding. Reversing tax cuts for big business and the very wealthy can easily cover the expenditure, but the big end of town will see this as an attack on their ‘opportunities’.
At some point we all have to chose which side we are on. There is very little to suggest that Gareth Morgan will opt for choosing working people- his whole career has been built around working with the business sector.
We do need dramatic change, but do we believe the vehicle for this change will come from a frustrated investor getting miffed at his mates? Parliament is already full of businessmen, lawyers, career politicians and technocrats. TOP looks to replace members of the political elite- but their replacements seem to be more of style than substance.
Real change can only come by empowering those who do the work in our society. The protests against the TPPA showed the potential power of working people. Auckland was shut down in defiance to the powers that be. It wasn’t because of a lawyer, or a good lobbyist, or a millionaire building a political vanity project. It was because ordinary people took action.
When a political project is created that channels these energies, it will be an opportunity for the left that is long over due.