Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Bryce Edwards: Internet Mana Party - bound to succeed or doomed to fail?

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The Internet Mana party has been launched with great fanfare and cash from a high-profile German backer. But what do we really know about the party?

Mana leader Hone Harawira (left) and Internet Party chief executive Vikram Kumar perform a hongi after signing an alliance agreement. Photo / Getty Images
Mana leader Hone Harawira (left) and Internet Party chief executive Vikram Kumar perform a hongi after signing an alliance agreement. Photo / Getty Images

Will the Internet Mana Party succeed? To answer this question, one first has to define what success is.

To this end, Kiwipolitico blogger Lew Stoddart looks at what succeeding might mean from the view of the various players involved in What is success for Internet Mana?. For Dotcom, Stoddart believes true success would be a support level of 10% or more, 'which would ruin almost everyone's coalition plans'. For others, the picture is more nuanced. Stoddart believes that victory of some sorts for Mana is almost guaranteed, as any gains beyond the single seat it already holds will be seen as a win. And even if the alliance fares poorly, Stoddart sees a future for at least Laila Harré: 'In the event that the Internet Party bring Harré only into parliament (four seats or fewer), or if Kim Dotcom withdraws his cash and the party structure is no longer found to be self-sustaining, it seems very likely that Harré would join Te Mana formally.'

In a must-read two-post series focusing on the Internet Party half of the alliance, minor party academic specialist Geoffrey Miller suggests why the coalition might succeed or fail. In the first post, Three reasons why the Internet Party might succeed, Miller cites the sheer level of resources being pumped into the party (both money and human) as cause for the Internet Party to be optimistic about its election chances: 'members should not necessarily be equated with activists.

But for the Internet Party, the attraction of members will not so much be their financial wherewithal, but their boots on the ground and the hoped-for 'buzz' that their involvement will generate through word-of-mouth.'

Geoffrey Miller suggests that the leftwing front to the Internet Party is as much pragmatic as principled, writing that 'it is more likely to be a market-driven, rather than Marx-driven vehicle.' But he also argues that the Internet Party's name and novelty-factor may be assets in themselves - the Internet Party name 'is simple, ostensibly neutral and unlikely to ruffle the feathers of voters on its own, in the way that calling the party the 'Left Party' or the 'Civil Liberties Party' might have done...In effect, the Internet Party name was and still largely is a blank canvas, on to which voters can project their own views'.

In the second post, Three reasons why the Internet Party might not succeed, Miller looks at the risks side of the ledger. He believes that the Internet Party runs the risk of ideological inconsistency: 'It would be wrong to totally ignore the idiosyncrasies of a party founded and funded by a wealthy foreigner, peddling a grab-bag of technology-driven and ostensibly left wing policies, all the while being wedded to a Maori nationalist movement for the sake of expedience'.

Of course, a wider interpretation of success could include more than just the Internet Mana Party gaining representation in Parliament. Lew Stoddart believes that simply putting its policies on the campaign agenda - and thereby potentially influencing other parties - may be an achievement of the new party: 'There are significant areas of ideological overlap, such as the flagship Internet Party policies of free tertiary education, withdrawal from the TPPA, severe constraints on the GCSB and other security and intelligence services, and - less popular with Hone Harawira than with his voters - the decriminalisation of marijuana. These are debates worth having, and we will be better off for having had them, whether the major parties want to or not'.

Taking an overall balanced view of the Internet Mana Party's prospects is Herald commentator John Armstrong, who argues: 'It can no longer be dismissed as a rich man's indulgence doubling as a potential, but still unlikely lifeline for Dotcom to escape deportation. The party's competitors claim they will not lose votes to Internet Mana - and then posit theories as to why their rivals will. They cannot all be right. It is too soon to say whether the game has changed - and how' - see: Internet Mana best taken seriously.

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Can money buy success?

In another post, Lew Stoddart looks at the 'cost per vote' track-record of parties in the past and on this basis considers it likely that 'Internet MANA would get 2-3% for $3 million. That would mean per-vote spending of around $50, far higher than any of the parties in 2011, on a par with the unelectable outliers in 2008. I still think that's the most likely outcome' - see: Doubloons.

Also looking at the role of Dotcom's money in the deal, Herald commentator Brian Rudman warns that accepting Dotcom's money implies a quid pro quo: 'Laila Harré, the newly appointed leader of the Internet Party, Mr Harawira, her Mana Party equal, Pam Corkery, the press officer, and the others who are poised to join the Dotcom-backed party...are all proclaiming they will be unsullied by the $3 million that has brought them together. Yet I can't help recalling a quote my colleague Fran O'Sullivan attributes to banker Michael Fay. He lived by the golden rule - "he who owns the gold, rules". This is the same Michael Fay, remember, who reportedly contributed up to $2 million into Labour Party coffers before the 1987 election in gratitude for the Rogernomics reforms of the previous three years' - see: Real cost of Dotcom alliance remains to be seen.

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The Internet Party's relationship with Mana

Debate continues over the merits and risks of the Internet Party's strategic alliance with Mana. One fascinating account is from Paul Barlow, a would-be Internet Party candidate who has been turned off by the Mana deal: 'I'm youngish, politically savvy, actually work in IT, kind of Left-leaning and have an affinity for larger-than-life Germans - being a descendent of a German immigrant family. I'm in the key demographic of voters they want to strike a chord with. Well, I was until the Internet Party signed an agreement with the Mana Party - effectively stopping me having even a passing interest in it any more' - see: Thanks - but here's why I'm not standing for Internet Party.

Also not mincing words on the alignment of the Internet Party with Mana is IT industry figure Ian Apperley: 'What we have, in my opinion, is a bunch of disaffected left wing potential racists (white or brown) that are power hunger and completely desperate to land some seats in parliament. It makes a mockery of our political system and is devalues our ICT industry. Quite frankly, our industry deserves better than this. I'm surprised that Vikram Kumar, one of our outstanding ICT leaders, has chosen to associate himself with this movement. It would be interesting to know what his salary is' - see: Mana and Internet Party unholy alliance is an insult to all NZ ICT workers.

How is the tactical use of the Maori seats being received? Maori politics expert Morgan Godfery admits his conflicted feelings in The Meaning of the Internet Mana Party: 'Mana - like the Maori Party and even the Young Maori Party before it - wants to become a fact in the distribution of public power. The corollary - as the experience of the M?ori Party and even the Young Maori Party before it - is that Mana must cosy up with establishment powers and sacrifice some autonomy. But didn't someone say politics is the art of compromise? Desperate people sometimes do desperate things. Or, in this case, desperate people can do conventional things too'.

While much of the attention has been on Hone Harawira's seat of Te Tai Tokerau, blogger Danyl Maclauchlan takes a look at the race in Waiariki, where Annette Sykes is challenging Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell: 'If [Sykes] does win it doesn't matter if Harawira holds his seat: Internet/Mana can still coat-tail in no matter which seat it holds'.

The fact that the Internet Party and its leadership appears to be overshadowing the Mana anchor of the alliance is highlighted by blogger Carrie-Stoddart Smith, who writes: 'the Internet Mana party alliance is supposedly led by Hone Harawira, but Laila Harré, Kim Dotcom and the Internet Party are dominating the media (social and news), which makes it difficult (for voters) to see who is in control. Noting, Harawira's weary interjection that he was still the leader of the alliance during Harré's IP leadership announcement' - see: Labour strategy might just work in their favour.

Meanwhile, Mana candidate John Minto responds to the 'dirty deal' allegations which have been made in response to the tactical alliance between the Internet Party and Mana to circumvent the 5 per cent threshold under MMP: 'By aligning with Mana, the Internet Party votes will count because Hone Harawira has his electorate seat, which he will retain. It's an arrangement which enhances democracy because it ensures more party votes are actually counted. Mana's position has always been that MMP should mean MMP. In other words the 5% threshold should be dropped and if a party gains enough votes to get a single MP elected on the party vote then that's what should happen. The big parties - National and Labour - however pressured to have the 5% threshold and make it almost impossible for smaller parties' - see: Electoral gerrymanders and democracy under MMP.

Candidates

On the Mana side of the Internet Mana party, candidates seem to be something of a known quantity, including familiar activist names like Hone Harawira, Annette Sykes and John Minto. For the Internet Party, candidates are being selected via a talent-show process, which has seen 140 prospective candidates refined down to a more manageable shortlist of 22, released online. The final selection of 15 will be unveiled on June 19, as explained in Internet Mana to name candidates next week. A post at Labour-friendly blog The Standard analyses the preliminary list in Internet Party candidate shortlist (http://bit.ly/1l6s4xg).

Shortlisted candidates appeared at a 'Candidate Challenge' event last Saturday. Leftwing blogger and Internet Mana party supporter Martyn Bradbury went along and sets out his favourites for candidates in Internet Party Idol not so politically idle + my candidate picks.

Attention has also been given to the one higher-profile hopeful in the 22-person shortlist, hip-hop artist Bill Urale, better known as King Kapisi - see Newstalk ZB's King Kapisi to battle for Internet Party spot.

Media reports on the candidate selection event include Newswire's Internet Party shortlisted candidates go into battle, TV3's Dotcom considers citizenship, run for Parliament, TVNZ's Kim Dotcom eyes seat in Parliament (http://bit.ly/1l6szY9) and the Herald's Dotcom to stand for Parliament in 2017.

Meanwhile, social media expert Matthew Beveridge looks at the Twitter presence of prospective Internet Party candidates and finds it wanting: 'The Internet Party has been portrayed as a party that will appeal to younger people, and those who see the internet and social media as the way to unlock the potential New Zealand has. But so far it looks like less than half of the people on their candidate short list have Twitter accounts, with most of those having pretty minimal social media presences' - see: The Internet Party: candidates on Twitter.

The role of Laila Harré leading a party trying to capture the youth vote is the subject of a column by Herald columnist John Roughan, who concludes: 'Dotcom says he will step back now, leave it to Harré to attract the internet generation. That's wise, though on television this week, standing beside the two politicians in his pocket, Dotcom has never looked younger' - see: Oldies after the youth vote. Harré's former relationship with the Greens has also been discussed by Kiwiblog author David Farrar in Harré was on Greens campaign committee until a fortnight ago.

Policy

Commentators are also beginning to analyse what is in the nascent Internet Party policy platform. Labour adviser Rob Salmond asks whether the Internet Party is another version of the internet-focused Pirate Party, which received 0.6% of the party vote at the 2011 election. Within this, he also examines the benefits and risks of allowing its members to help devise its policies: 'The group contributing to the crowd-sourced platform may...be dominated by leftie-unionists and Tino Rangatiratanga-sympathisers, rather than geeks. This is tricky an early test for Harré. Can she and her crowd craft a platform that is true to the Internet Party's Pirate Party roots, but still sound like the kind of stuff Laila would say? Not the easiest circle to square' - see: Internet Party = Pirate Party?.

Tim Watkin, producer of TV3's The Nation, writes a scathing assessment of the many inconsistencies between the background of Dotcom and Laila Harré's own: 'Q+A reminded Harré that her party's sponsor had told the programme he wanted to found a party that helped those who were heavily taxed. So no succour there. Then there's Dotcom's libertarian approach to the internet. Is Harré comfortable with the idea at that end of the free internet debate, that copyright laws are essentially obsolete? Will she not champion the small musicians and doco-makers and the like who see their work put online without getting a cut? She and he are at odds on some very fundamental political points' - see: That's the price I pay for hating Key the way that I do.

It's worth noting that not all on the far left are happy with the Internet Mana tie-up. Blogger Steve Cowan argues that the movement offers 'nothing new': 'You will have to look very hard to find anything radical left associated with Harré. Someone characterised her on Twitter as Sue Bradford lite but I think that's an exaggeration as well. That she is a defender of the system was highlighted to me just recently when she argued on TVNZ's Q+A that the reason that so many people don't bother to vote anymore is because they don't know how to' - see: Change we can believe in?.

Relationship with other parties

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Internet Mana alliance continues to be the dynamics between it and other parties of the left. Carrie Stoddart-Smith summarises the tightrope walked by existing left parties in Labour strategy might just work in their favour: 'Labour's 'principles' strategy, might just see it creep up a percentage point or two in the next poll as those who fear the influence of the Internet Mana party in a left leaning government may consider throwing their weight behind Labour to ensure a strong majority. On the other hand, those same voters might instead flee to the right preferring the status quo to a potentially volatile left.'

How will the Internet Mana party affect the right? Former Labour Party staffer Phil Quin argues that it may scare voters into giving National an absolute majority: 'However sincere her motives or non-ironic her delivery, the facts behind Harré's reemergence in the public arena are troubling. She has not been elected leader of a political party as much as cast in that role by a German fugitive millionaire with a track record of using his fortune to purchase political influence and, not coincidentally, avoid extradition. Perhaps lured by the prospect of abundant resources, a policy blank slate and, to be fair, in the absence of many better options, Harré, along with Hone Harawira and John Minto, have opted to hitch New Zealand's Perennially Dissatisfied Left to Dotcom's careering bandwagon' - see: How Internet Mana could help National reach 50%.

Leftwing commentator Chris Trotter, generally a supporter of the role the Internet Mana Party is taking on the left, seems to have heard rumours of the right planning to drop a bombshell: 'All that can be heard at present are whispers. Rumours of something huge and terrible waiting in the wings. Something that the IT entrepreneur's enemies have uncovered, the revelation of which will destroy the Dotcom phenomenon once and for all. Allies and associates are being warned to distance themselves from "The German" lest they be sucked down with him in a scandal of career-destroying power' - see: A Favourable Reference: Why John Key's biggest enemy is the Left's friend.

Also examining the relationship between the parties of the left are the blogs by Oliver Chan: It's just a jump to the left, and Four Seasons In One Kiwi's Politics just got interesting.

- 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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