Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Bryce Edwards: Hone Harawira - the great unifier of Mana.com

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Kim Dotcom speaks at the Mana Party AGM at Mataikotare Marae. Photo / Ben Fraser
Kim Dotcom speaks at the Mana Party AGM at Mataikotare Marae. Photo / Ben Fraser

Who would have thought that the supposedly sectarian and extremist Hone Harawira could foster a mega alliance between his leftwing Mana Party and Kim Dotcom's Internet Party? The electoral coalition is not yet a signed and sealed deal, but it's now looking more likely than ever, and it's increasingly apparent that Harawira's coalition-building skills have been crucial in pushing the deal forward.

'Dirty deals' or parliamentary reality?

Parliamentary politics requires all sorts of deals, alliances, compromises and agreements. Any observer of elections will be aware of how much horse-trading and pragmatism is involved. So it's hardly surprising that Dotcom and Harawira have been negotiating to see how they can build some sort of mutually advantageous coalition. Yet, this particular deal still appears to be confounding many on both the left and right.

How has Hone Harawira managed to get this far with the deal? After all, he has not only won over Dotcom and the Internet Party, but he seems to have convinced the majority of Mana Party activists. Although there are plenty of news articles honing in on any dissent within Mana, what is truly incredible is the lack of dissent. Who would have thought that the leftwing activists of Mana would have anything to do with a non-left organisation like the Internet Party?

Part of Harawira's success appears to have been in winning over key leftwing activists in his party such as John Minto and Annette Sykes. Many commentators simply assumed that Minto would be opposed to the deal, yet in the weekend he was noticeably warm towards the idea.

And yesterday Minto blogged what he regards as the pros and cons of going in with Dotcom - see: Mana and the Internet Party - strategic alliance or wtf?. By design or not, Minto makes a very strong case in favour of the alliance. His arguments in favour boil down to the idea that it would help change the government, boost the chances of Mana getting more MPs, and be good for democracy.

Party president Annette Sykes also appears to have been won over. She has been reported as believing that the 'Arguments against included having to compromise on their principles and policies though any perception of a lack of commonality between Dotcom and the Mana Movement was false' - see Michael Fox's Dissent as Mana and Dotcom draw nearer. That article details other activists giving support for the alliance. Sykes has also celebrated the 'digital democracy' and mobilisation potential of the alliance - see Adam Bennett's Party youth wing sees Dotcom's voter appeal.

Having Kim Dotcom speak to the conference was a major success for Harawira. One branch chairperson, Joe Trinder, is quoted in a number of articles explaining why this was so successful: 'He won that crowd over easily. All the socialists that were kind of against it, he nullified their arguments ... He is from the working class so their arguments were fruitless' - see Adam Bennett's Alliance on agenda.

It was also a deft move to get former MP Willie Jackson (and others) to come to the conference and endorse the alliance. Adam Bennett reports: 'Speaking to the meeting this morning, former Alliance MP and broadcaster Willie Jackson noted the positive impact the discussions between the two parties had had so far had had on Mana's profile and told Mana members they should go ahead with the deal' - see: Dotcom deal with Mana likely. Jackson said the publicity for Mana had been 'bloody marvellous', and 'He said former Prime Minister Helen Clark and current Prime Minister John Key regularly did deals with other parties yet Mana was receiving a media bashing for doing so. "How is it they are able to use, manufacture and manipulate MMP but the Maori boy is not?" he said to thunderous applause' - see Newswire's Dotcom confident of Mana deal.

In his own political column about the deal, Jackson has accused opponents of Mana.Com as racism: 'The criticism around Hone Harawira doing a deal with Kim Dotcom is not only unfair but raises questions of hypocrisy and racism. Hypocrisy because why is it that other political leaders in the country are able to utilise and manipulate MMP to their parties' advantage and Hone Harawira apparently is not allowed to? And racist because it looks like Harawira is again being singled out because of his strong pro Maori views' - see: Harawira's deal with Dotcom raises issues.

Harawira's coalition skills were praised last week by Gordon Campbell in his column Mana and Dotcom can do business. He says, 'To date, though, Harawira has deserved a lot of credit for the disciplined way he has conducted his discussions with the Internet Party'. Campbell also makes the argument in favour of Mana.Com, saying that Mana has tried and failed to build a 'purist' leftwing party and now needs to branch out. He says, 'Whether the Mana veterans like it or not, joint action with Kim Dotcom and his music industry friends could reach and motivate the Maori and Polynesian urban underclass in ways that Mana's (and Labour's) traditional forms of messaging have not, and cannot'.

Harawira is pushing aside criticism of his deal with Dotcom, while also deftly pushing up the level of leftwing rhetoric. For instance, in the weekend he argued that 'Mana should be viewed as a movement which is often going to step outside the law' - see Radio NZ's Mana leader law comments 'unwise'. In this report I make the argument that by reminding activists of his radicalism, Harawira is cleverly undermining any criticism that he is selling out.

More electorate deals coming?

With the prospect of a successful electoral deal with Dotcom being negotiated, could there be more on the way? Annette Sykes is now raising the possibility of Mana negotiating a deal with the Greens in the Maori electorate of Te Tai Hauauru. By standing aside, Mana might help the Greens' Jack McDonald win the seat from the Maori Party - see Laura McQuillan's Mana says digital democracy has arrived.

Deals with Labour in other Maori seats could follow. In Waiariki, there will be every reason for Labour to give Annette Sykes a clear run at beating Te Uroroa Flavell, in order to kill off National's coalition partner the Maori Party. On Morning Report today Labour's Shane Jones said 'We don't believe their will be a Maori Party at the end of the year and so we've never really figured that we would have to rely on Te Ururoa Flavell. Annette Sykes, I think will beat Te Ururoa Flavell'. Revelations on Native Affairs last night that the Maori Party charged $5,000 a head for an exclusive fundrasing dinner and chat time with the Prime Minister chains them even more firmly to National and make it easier for Labour to work with Mana to wipe them out of parliament this year.

Similarly, with the emerging Mana.Com electoral force potentially playing a bigger role in a Labour-led election victory in September, Labour will be under increasing pressure to effectively pull out of the race in Harawira's seat of Te Tai Tokerau. See Adam Bennett's Tai Tokerau hot seat for alliance for a similar discussion. See also, Susan Edmunds' Mana.com tries to hitch a ride into government.

Dissent in the Mana Party

The leftwing of Mana is obviously less convinced about hooking up with a figure some label a pro-business rightwing libertarian. The person fighting hardest against the Dotcom deal is Sue Bradford, who has reported from the Mana conference that 'There was deep debate, deep dissension and resistance to the idea of going into an alliance with the Internet Party.... Some of us, both Maori and Pakeha, are really disturbed by the idea of going into an alliance with a neo-liberal millionaire' - see Adam Bennett's Harawira shrugs off defections danger over Dotcom deal.

It's the 'socialists' in Mana who are reportedly most wary. They will be asking whether this alliance will mean the end of New Zealand's only real leftwing parliamentary party. Affiliated far-left groups in Mana - the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), Fightback and Socialist Aotearoa - are all, to some extent conflicted over the deal. Those that are more comfortable with it, draw parallels with the fact that in 1917, Vladimir Lenin pragmatically accepted help from the German state to return to Russia in a sealed train in order to start the October Revolution.

However, it is also notable that many who oppose Dotcom in Mana, do so for his advocacy of foreign investment, and so opposition to Dotcom appears to be based more on nationalism than socialism.

It's also not only the far left in Mana, but also activists closer to home who are challenging Harawira's plans - see Michael Fox's Family split on Harawira Dotcom talks.

Doubt about Mana.Com

Outside of Mana there are plenty of doubters too. Mike Hosking says today that there are too many 'incongruous' policy stances in the two parties: 'To work as a unit you need fundamental agreement on base issues like tax, spending, health, education, the size of the state and its various departments and bodies. On those sort of matters they're diametrically opposed' - see: Hone being used by Dotcom.

Similarly, Duncan Garner thinks they're too different make it work: 'Harawira lives and breathes tino rangatiratanga - Maori sovereignty and independence. He stands for Maori rule, he stands for the working poor, the left out, the underpaid and the beneficiaries. He is a three universes away from what Dotcom stands for' - see: Hone's 'Mana' on the line over Dotcom.

Newstalk ZB's Laura McQuillan says that the marriage of convenience won't be a happy one: 'it won't be long before Kim Dotcom and Hone Harawira realise they're both so used to getting their own way there's no room for the other one's thoughts, feelings or policies in this relationship. The marriage won't last once these two realise they're both better off alone' - see: Dotcom-Harawira marriage won't last.

Today's Press newspaper editorial condemns the alliance, saying that 'Even for electoral politics, it would be a contrived and cynical step too far' - see: Mana's cynical step too far. Evidence provided for the incompatibility of the parties includes quoting the two parties' slogans on their websites: 'The revolution is now' and 'This is going to be awesome'.

The NBR's Rob Hosking argues that Mana.Com will be less effective in mobilising the 'Disaffected and disengaged youth' than just stealing votes from the main opposition party: 'The disruptiveness will be on the Left, though. How well, or poorly, the Mana/Dotcom bloc does will be a function of the despair of Labour voters, and its most likely effect will be further erosion, perhaps even a collapse, of the Labour vote' - see Dotcom will hurt Labour more than anyone else (paywalled).

Party democracy

Some are questioning how democratic the process around the proposed electoral deal has been. Adam Bennett reports that 'at least one party insider - who questions the strength of the party's internal democracy - believes "the fix is in". They expect the outcome today, which has been predetermined for weeks' - see: Talks over tie-up with Mana set to drag on.

Last week, Laura McQuillan reported that Harawira promised the members the final say: 'I can confirm that it'll be the Mana membership rather than the leadership, either myself or the executive, who will make the final decision' - see: Dotcom decision lies with Mana members. Following the weekend, however, Adam Bennett reported differently: 'Harawira indicated the final decision would be made by senior party figures rather than a wider vote. "It will probably be made by the executive in the final analysis"' - see: Harawira shrugs off defections danger over Dotcom deal.

Similarly, blogger Pete George argues that 'It sounds like Harawira has already made his mind up. And anyone who disagrees is dispensable' - see: Harawira's way or the highway.

Harawira didn't do much to dissuade his audience of this in his 5-minute interview on Q+A with Susan Wood where he refers to Sue Bradford as 'Susan Bradford' - see: Dotcom hosts picnic, Mana votes to keep talks going. See also, Lisa Owen's 10-minute interview with Harawira on The Nation - see: Interview: Mana party leader Hone Harawira and Full transcript. In response to the threats of Bradford and other activists departing, Harawira has rather cavalierly said, 'You win some you lose some'.

The Internet Party's policy announcements

Dotcom's visit to the Mana conference was also newsworthy for his release of more party policy - for instance saying that he opposed fracking for oil, and supported free education and the abolition of student loans. Yesterday Dotcom released further policies and gave a greater indication of how policy will be made in the party - see Mohamed Hassan's Internet Party members gather at Dotcom's mansion.

Dotcom also revealed that the leader of the party would be elected via a 'Leader Idol' contest - see Brook Sabin's 2-minute news report, Internet Party reveals two policies at pool party. See also Vikram Kumar's interview, Internet Party members to help develop policy, Mana alliance uncertain. It's hard to see how the unnamed electorate MP that the Internet Party claims to have been talking to will be enthusiastic about competing for their position through that process.

The party plans to write policy using a website like Wikipedia - see Radio NZ's Dotcom reveals wiki-policy move. Social media scholar, Matthew Beveridge comments on this in his blog post, The Internet Party, Kim Dotcom and "wikipolicy".

The Labour Party is obviously keeping a close eye on Mana.Com arrangements, and the party's blogging spin-doctor Rob Salmond subsequently puts forward his 'guesses' in the post, Predictions about mana.com.

Finally, for some humour on Dotcom, see James Griffin's Awesome Internet Party and my blog post, Images of Mana and Dotcom's Internet Party.

- 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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