by Chris Tobin
Geoff Simmons, the new leader of The Opportunities Party (Top), has a lofty goal – to gain 10% of the vote at the next general election in 2020.
At last year’s election the party, founded by high-profile businessman Gareth Morgan, achieved 2.5% of the vote, half that required to get list representation in Parliament.
Mr Simmons, a Wellington economist, passed through Timaru last Friday on a flying visit as part of a nationwide tour.
He remained optimistic despite being largely unknown by many of the New Zealand public.
“It’s a challenge [taking over from Mr Morgan], but I’ve got a good public profile on social media.
“We were one of the best performing parties on social media at the last election.”
A board comprising Mr Simmons, Olly Wilson, of Timaru, and Paddy Plunket (Wellington) has been planning the party’s comeback after Mr Morgan’s withdrawal from politics.
“One thing we learned from the last election was that people vote from emotion, the heart. We’re a party that can offer hope for future generations.”
Mr Simmons’ optimism was buoyed by the party’s membership.
“Our focus is on rebuilding the party structure and our membership is just shy of 4000.
“Our membership pre-election was just over 3000, so we’ve grown by almost a thousand. Most big parties have 10,000. The Greens have 5000 to 6000, so we’re well in the range. Our aim is 10,000.
“Gareth has given us transitional funding and we’ve got members and supporters. That will give us stability for the short term.
“We’re also talking to major backers, so we have potential to get a war chest.”
Mr Simmons believed the party’s policies would resonate with young New Zealanders.
“A lot of younger people feel dismayed with the challenges of high housing costs, massive issues with health, the environment and inequality. We offer hope for real change.”
The party advocated tax cuts for wage and salary earners and for asset owners to pay more.
“Forty percent of New Zealanders own nothing, another 40% own just their home and 20% own everything else and foreigners own a bunch more, too.”
He said the Top Party had shifted the base so that issues such as tax cuts were discussed more often.
“The Government talks a lot but at the end of the day they don’t do much. As soon as they hit something unpopular they draw back.
“They talk also of reducing inequality but it’s mostly for the middle class. The free university subsidy is going to those who would go to university anyway.
“If you want to help lower-income earners you need to put money into early childhood. Free tertiary education is popular but what really works is giving everyone an opportunity.”
Mr Simmons’ first test will come next month, when party members vote online to decide the party’s leader going towards the 2020 general election.