Dr Lance O'Sullivan. Photo: Reagen Butler for 1972 magazine

Place your bids: How parties can tempt Dr Lance O’Sullivan to their team

Political parties are salivating over the prospect of getting Lance O’Sullivan to join them. So which party should the good doctor choose? Alex Braae assesses the options.

Famously handsome former New Zealander of the Year Dr Lance O’Sullivan is a man with options. He could continue to be a doctor, bringing affordable healthcare to the people of the far North. He could take up a career in motivational speaking. He could be an educator. But for whatever reason, he’s now eyeing up a career in politics. So which party can offer him the best deal?


Pros: The party is chock full of anonymous backbenchers. Lance O’Sullivan could try and wrangle selection a winnable seat like Northland, and get into Parliament in 2020. National could also give him a job befitting his mana, given how unloved health spokesman Jonathan Coleman is. And there’s every chance National will be back in office in 2020, or 2023, meaning he would then be the minister of health – a job he said he wants.

Cons: They’re the Tories. The flinty, hard-hearted Tories. Well, maybe that’s not quite fair, given the last government’s moves on social investment aimed at those most at risk. But fundamentally, National is the party that takes a hard line on welfare claimants, raised GST which hit the poorest hardest, and spent nine years presiding over a health system O’Sullivan describes as “shitty.”


Pros: Currently in government and still in the phase of being reasonably open to new ideas. If O’Sullivan became Ardern’s deputy leader, their cover stories could singlehandedly save the New Zealand lifestyle magazine publishing industry.

Cons: Labour is an intensely hierarchical party that people move up in slowly. The climb would probably bore Lance O’Sullivan to death. Plus, they don’t really seem that interested in O’Sullivan any more – reports last year indicated they were, but that’s all gone silent now.

The Greens

Pros: Photos of Lance O’Sullivan wearing a scarf and coat combo prove he could keep up with the hip young activists in the party. And earlier photos from 2014, in which he wears a terminally daggy blue sweater, show that he could also fit in with the older Greens, who to put it euphemistically, are just all about policy. Plus, as this piece he wrote for The Spinoff shows, he cares deeply about the issues with the welfare system raised by ousted Green leader Metiria Turei.

Cons: His running battle against anti-vaxxers could prove a problem for the last vestiges of the ‘homeopathy Greens.’

The Opportunities Party

Pros: TOP needs a leader, that much is clear. Gareth Morgan said yesterday they’re definitely interested in getting Lance O’Sullivan on board. And given his recent work on the iMOKO app, TOP’s technological and technocratic style could appeal.

Cons: He would have to have regular conversations with Gareth Morgan and Sean Plunket. Also, there’s no guarantee at all TOP will make it into Parliament in 2020, which would mean years of wasted effort, followed by a depressing election night party with Gareth Morgan and Sean Plunket.

The Māori Party

Pros: O’Sullivan would have an okay chance of winning a seat for the party, and bringing them back into Parliament. From there, he may be able to wrangle a permanent Kingmaker position, with the party switching between whoever was more dominant out of National or Labour.

Cons: The party absolutely hated Lance O’Sullivan suggesting he should come in and be the sole leader, and that’s unlikely to be forgotten.   


Pros: This is actually not as insane as it sounds, given Lance O’Sullivan was a strong supporter of the ASPIRE scholarship system, backed by the ACT Party.

Cons: The party is unlikely to be able to fund enough Epsom voters to move to make a difference in the Northland electorate, which means he’s probably unelectable on an ACT ticket.

The Cannabis Party

Pros: Lance O’Sullivan leading The Cannabis Party would effectively capture every constituency in Northland. And, he does actually want to end the war on drugs. Finally, since the party’s brutal schism in 2017, they’re ripe for a takeover.

Cons: There are none. This is by far the best option.

But should parties really go all out for the Doctor?

Lance O’Sullivan is not necessarily the great get that many are assuming. Yes, he’s given decades of tireless community service. Yes, he’s achieved remarkable things and has a highly trusted public profile. Yes, he’s devastatingly handsome. But he may not actually fit into politics.

Lance O’Sullivan appears to have a messianic streak in his personality, a desire to change the world combined with a belief that he can. As his overtures to the Māori Party showed, he wants to run the show. Would that go down well in parties that already have established pecking orders? Can he keep quiet if he has a disagreement with party policy? Given how unafraid he’s been about speaking out on controversial topics in the past, parties may be nervous about bringing him into their ranks.

To get in, he would need to join a party’s branch in a winnable seat, or convince party power-brokers to parachute him in on the list. And these sort of big recruitment coups don’t necessarily work out; despite being a marvellous human being, David Shearer’s political career was an abject failure. He was a former New Zealander of the Year too.

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