Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Watch out for Dotcom

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Kim Dotcom.
Kim Dotcom.

"Welcome to the start of the most exciting & disruptive election year in New Zealand history. Let's kick some ass #InternetParty". That was a tweet sent on Wednesday by Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom), and it obviously has more than an element of truth in it. After all, Dotcom and his fledgling Internet Party are becoming one of the defining issues of the election year. For more such dialogue on Twitter, see my blogpost, Latest top tweets about Dotcom, spying, the PM, and the media. See also, Recent images and cartoons about Dotcom.

Don't write off the Internet Party yet

Everyone is writing off the prospects of the Internet Party having any success this year. There's a broad consensus that the party is doomed. Comments on these lines have been voiced from everyone from John Key - who has likened the Internet Party to a joke party - through to today's Herald editorial, Kim Dotcom is testing the public's affections.

There are certainly good reasons to doubt that the Internet Party can succeed this year. The party has had an absolutely disastrous start to the year, with the cancelled 'Party Party', the many leaks, and controversies over the personnel involved.

What's more, it's very difficult to set up a new party and break into Parliament. The 5 percent MMP threshold is an incredibly high barrier for new parties, and those already in Parliament have huge parliamentary resources that give them the edge over new competitors. For these reasons, there's only been one political party to break into Parliament over the last two decades - the Act Party.

All the other parties have had the luxury of already possessing existing MPs. And in the Act Party's case, it's also worth remembering that when the party originally launched, it was a flop (barely registering in the polls), but after some trial-and-error the party managed to re-launch with electoral success. I said some similar things on TV1's Breakfast this morning - see TVNZ's Dotcom could play 'big role' in election.

The 0 percent public support recorded for the Internet Party in a opinion poll released earlier in the week has also contributed to a feeling that Dotcom's party has failed before it's even began. Yet, the TV3 poll also showed that One in five would consider voting for Dotcom. And, importantly, out of the crucial undecided voters, a full 'one in three' would also consider voting for Dotcom's party. Although few of these voters will actually end up as supporters, it's still not inconceivable that Dotcom could hit 5 percent. A couple of new polls are due out in the next few days, which could be crucial for Dotcom.

How can Dotcom succeed?

There are signs that the Internet Party is finally about to launch itself. Although in recent weeks the key personnel - as well as Dotcom - have gone to ground, it appears that they've taken the opportunity to retreat and re-work the details of the party. We might well see a big splash over the next couple of weeks. At this stage, we only know the name and logo of the party. If Dotcom can also come out with some fresh and impressive policies and names associated with the party, he will still be in the game.

In recent weeks there are a number of supporters and commentators providing advice and analysis on how the Dotcom Internet Party might yet succeed in politics this year. One of the best of these has been Chris Barton's Herald article, Get back to your roots Kim Dotcom. Barton makes some very good points about the party's evolution, and also argues that it should adopt three policies: 'Stop spying on me', 'Fix the copyright farce', and 'Dirt cheap, ultra fast internet for all'.

Former Green Party MP Keith Locke has also stressed the positives for the party in his blogpost, Prospects for the Internet Party. For example, Locke highlights the success of parallel parties elsewhere, together with a changing public debate about state surveillance: 'Similar parties in Europe (usually called Pirate parties) have had some success, and have brought a lot of young people into politics. The Swedish Pirate Party has two members in the European Parliament and is a member of Greens/European Free Alliance bloc in that Parliament. The internet freedom and privacy policies of the Pirate parties have even more appeal now, in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelation of the comprehensive nature of state surveillance of communications. In New Zealand there is the added factor of the recent debate around GCSB spying and substantial public opposition to the legislation extending its reach'.

Ideological problems - is the Internet Party left, right, or something else?

There has been much debate about what the Internet Party is - or should be, in terms of political ideology. For good reason, many have come to see it as some sort of leftwing party, or at least an anti-National party. Some see it as a major mistake for Dotcom to have allowed his vehicle to be framed that way. Chris Barton is especially of that view. But not all see it as leftwing at all. For example on the World Socialist Website, Tom Peters characterises such parties as being inclined towards conservatism - see: Kim Dotcom to launch pro-business Internet Party.

Tech writer Pat Pilcher has argued in favour of Dotcom concentrating solely on digital issues, as this is an area under-served by existing parties: "it's a niche that Kim Dotcom's party pretty much has all to itself. Issues such as online privacy, intellectual property and online freedom have all become burning issues over the last 18 months, with public awareness at an all-time high. Sadly this hasn't translated into any real political championing for the rights of the New Zealand public around these issues by any of the big political parties. Over the last 12 months we've seen online privacy evaporate thanks to Orwellian laws that handed over our online privacy to the folks at the GCSB. Of equal concern are the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations that have been quietly underway for ages" - see: The Internet Party - About time.

According to the NBR's Chris Keall there are two broad constituencies that the party might appeal to: the angry Gen Y voters/non-voters, and the more tech-libertarian "serious faction": "Kim Dotcom's putative Internet Party seems to have two pools of potential support - disillusioned Gen Y who don't vote, and are disillusioned with politics in general and an older, more serious faction angry about the two 'spy bills' that passed last year (with some crossover). Many members of the latter group - which we'll call the 'serious faction' like Dotcom's ability to stir up popular interest in issues like copyright, surveillance and privacy" - see: Kumar - the meat in Internet Party's policy sandwich?.

Keall says that in terms of the "serious faction", "On forums like InternetNZ's Policy Advisory Group discussion thread, people are looking to see who'll be named to the Internet Party's list, and for policy to emerge - particularly heavyweight policy that will prove the party is no mere vanity project". Such people will be impressed with the new party organiser, "Vikram Kumar - the former InternetNZ CEO and State Services Commission insider who knows the ins-and-outs of surveillance legislation, and complex controversies like the TPP, and how to put articulate, headline-grabbing arguments forward about both".

But not all "serious" netizens are behind Dotcom. Self-declared "nerd" blogger, Daniel Miles makes a plea to Dotcom not to set up his Internet Party, because he says it'd be to the detriment of the digital campaign issues that Dotcom professes to believe in: "Internet policy needs to go mainstream, not further fringe. You're doing immense damage to ever achieving that goal by furthering the view that it's only people like you - like us - who care about it. InternetNZ is effective because it is professional. If you want to advance the cause of internet policy, donate to them and help them do their work, rather than helping condemn what they work for into the cesspit of fringe politics" - see: Internet policy in New Zealand, or, why Kim Dotcom needs a figurative slap in the face.

Of course, even if the Internet Party is a "single-issue" one, it doesn't mean that it will forsake all other issues. Vikram Kumar explains this well in his blogpost announcing his involvement in the party: "The Internet Party is not a single issue party in the sense that the Internet is not just a technical or access issue - it impacts everything and everyone. The things that New Zealanders typically care about when voting can all benefit significantly from the Internet and technology. This includes the economy, jobs, health, education, and inequalities" - see: Career Hiatus.

Recent developments have made it clearer that Dotcom sees his party as aligned with the opposition - especially because of his announcement this week on Twitter that he'd close the party down if it proves to be endangering a change of government by polling too low. Such an announcement will prove problematic for the party says blogger Pete George in a post worth quoting a length: "The biggest flaw is that small party support can swing significantly during the election campaign - in fact that is often where small parties pick up much of their vote. Much of the voting population takes little notice of politics most of the time and just wake up for the election campaign. Many from the pool of voters most likely to vote for the Internet Party make up their minds after the time that Dotcom has threatened to pull the plug on his party.

The "self-destruct" pledge will not help encourage people to stand as candidates for Dotcom's party, and it will not encourage people to help him campaign, and it will not encourage key people to give up their current careers and work for his campaign knowing that the self destruct button could be pushed at the whim of Dotcom. It has confirmed to voters that Dotcom's primary intent is to oust the National Government by any means possible and is not a serious political party" - see: The "self destruct" VonSchmitzicuddy Party.

For another very interesting discussion of the party's ideology and strategy, see Liam Hehir's The genesis of a party platform.

Deals with Dotcom

The debate about opposition parties doing supposed deals with Dotcom has produced a lot of interesting discussion. Jane Clifton doesn't appear to believe Russel Norman's denials of a deal: 'Norman is naturally adamant there is no "non-extradition-for-non-party" deal. Heavens, one would never be so crude. But that appears to be the guts of it. Everyone has just enough plausible deniability to figleaf over the cunning essence of this not-quite-deal' - see: Dotcom dot-joining (paywalled). And Claire Trevett has pondered whether the Greens should be attempting to reduce democratic choice for the election: 'Talking somebody out of standing runs counter to the Greens' usual stance that MMP is a democratic Mardi Gras and voters should have as wide a choice as possible. It has railed against deals cooked up by other parties' - see: 'All together now' in parliamentary echo chamber.

The whole episode has raised many interesting questions, and David Farrar asks some of these in his blogpost, The persuasive Dotcom. See also, his post, Kim's little helpers.

But Gordon Campbell says the whole story is a beat up - see On smear tactics in politics. And Tim Watkin challenges the assumptions about Norman's extradition statements - see: What exactly has Russel Norman done wrong?.

Political spying allegations

The Dotcom debate turned onto the Government, with allegations that John Key had received his information about politician visits to Dotcom's mansion from state security agencies. The PM now claims he got the information from the Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater - see Claire Trevett's PM hints tip-off came from blogger, an Stuff's Looks like Slater is Key's Peters source.

For other theories, see Danyl Mclauchlan's blogpost, Alternate theory. Also see Rachel Glucina's Diary, and Pete George's The Left "reduced to such delusionist fantasies".

As to whether politicians should even be complaining about state surveillance, see Paul Buchanan's Monitoring Syrians and Supplicants. He argues 'whatever Labour, NZ First or United Future may say now as a way of partisan point-scoring, they are full accomplices in the erosion of Kiwi privacy rights over the last decade. Any current whinging about intrusions on their personal and the larger collective privacy should be dismissed as cowardly rank hypocrisy.

Finally, for some lighter satire on these topics, see Toby Manhire's Revealed: the leaked election strategy emails, and Scott Yorke's My involvement with Kim Dotcom: a disclosure.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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