Left to right: Geoff Simmons, Jacinda Ardern, Julie Ann Genter, warriors in the Mt Albert by-election of 2017

Geoff Simmons: the demonisation of TOP 2.0 is political tribalism at its worst

TOP’s leader writes about the party’s rebirth, and what the furious reaction to it says about the state of New Zealand politics.

The reaction to the relaunch of TOP was overwhelmingly positive, and I am immensely grateful for that.

What surprised me is how quickly people can leap onto any reason to demonise people or groups. It’s been less than a year since the election yet I forgot how nasty politics can be. Even those very sensitive to the negative portrayal of certain groups seem quick to vilify those they see as the “enemy”.

Some want to demonise Gareth Morgan or Sean Plunket for their handling of the 2017 campaign, others Jenny Condie for her actions afterwards. I’ve seen a few nasty words about myself. Others want to know which ‘side’ TOP is on, and can’t understand how we could possibly be willing to work with the side they don’t like.

I refuse to buy into any of it. This will not be how TOP works on my watch, for a bunch of reasons.

Firstly, these are all real people, with real feelings. It is easy to forget that and lose empathy behind a keyboard.

Secondly, this approach isn’t useful. It doesn’t change minds, it simply entrenches division. These sort of deeply dug in positions are crazy when our two major parties are so close together on policy. The whole point of the Treaty is that Aotearoa New Zealand is a place where people talk about their differences, rather than fight. That is a goal for us all to aspire to.

Finally, it is just not the way I see the world. I believe most people are good, and are doing the best job they can in the circumstances.

Everyone has life experiences, often in childhood, that shape them. These experiences can create incredible strengths, but also weaknesses. None of us are perfect, yet those in the public eye are expected to take unlimited flak and somehow remain cool and composed.

Likewise everyone has a reason for their views. They may not be based on well-informed analysis, but people are not robots. Left wingers aren’t the only people that care, right wingers aren’t the only people that value hard work.

Isn’t everyone getting sick of this pettiness and tribal politics? It seems such a farce in an age where Labour and National swapped superannuation policies at the last election, and now National has adopted the education policy that Labour was running when I was nine (reduced class sizes).

I will work with and talk to anyone that can help our nation progress, including Simon Bridges, Jacinda Ardern, Sean Plunket and Jenny Condie. All I expect in return is a degree of open mindedness, self-reflection and being prepared to learn from mistakes.

After all mistakes are an inevitable part of the great learning opportunity that is life. We are all on our own journey. There are no demons out there, just people who aren’t in the right circumstances to suit their talents. Of course that doesn’t excuse negative behaviour, but it helps us understand it.

My pick for politician of 2017 was Andrew Little, who realised this was the case and was selfless enough to put his ego aside and step down as Labour leader. History will recognise this as a masterstroke. If I am ever in the same position I intend to do the same.

TOP will talk to anyone. TOP will work with anyone that is committed to boosting our economy, reducing inequality and restoring our environment for future generations. Because we are all in this together.


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