Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Bryce Edwards: Labour's divisions over Internet Mana

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Hone Harawira and Laila Harre.
Hone Harawira and Laila Harre.

The politician most scared of Kim Dotcom is not John Key, but David Cunliffe. The Labour leader is clearly worried about being the next victim of this political wrecking ball, which is why he is at such pains to disassociate his party with the founder of the Internet Party, and why he's having problems with Kelvin Davis and Hone Harawira in the Te Tai Tokerau electorate contest.

But a bigger problem, possibly, is that the latest saga reveals significant tensions within Labour, and such divisions continue to stymie the party's chances of electoral success.

For the most forthright enunciation of this division within Labour over Te Tai Tokerau and the Internet Mana Party, see Chris Trotter's No Cookies! But maybe the balance of power. Why Kelvin Davis and the Labour Right are so scared of Internet-Mana. Trotter argues that the right wing of the Labour Party is behind the tensions with Internet Mana: 'The scuttlebutt in left-wing circles is that Davis has been "rarked up" by Labour's ABC Faction, who not only need their leader, David Cunliffe, to fail on 20 September, but who are also determined to deny Internet-Mana a parliamentary bridgehead'.

Trotter also condemns Kelvin Davis for his 'confrontational and abusive rhetoric, but also for the rank ingratitude and disloyalty he has displayed toward Labour'.

Arguing that Labour still needs the Internet Mana Party, Trotter complains of 'the general ignorance which still surrounds the MMP electoral system', and therefore of 'the strategic stupidity' of Davis.

This disunity in Labour is clearly debilitating. The fact that, once again, Labour's intense internal warfare is bubbling into clear public view is, according to Danyl Mclauchlan, the real problem for preventing Labour doing better.

Martyn Bradbury suggests that the strong opposition to Internet Mana reflects the dominance of Labour's right wing faction: 'this position means the ABCs - Labour's right wing faction - have finally taken over the Caucus' - see: Cunliffe on Internet MANA, how ungrateful is Kelvin Davis & how we know Labour's vote isn't collapsing.

For a defence of Labour's right, see Jane Clifton's latest Listener column, A touch of class wars (paywalled). In this Clifton defends Labour's 'old guard', and diminishes the value of the Internet Mana Party for Labour. Similarly, see The Standard's blog post, Our Friends in the North.

Labour's fear of the Dotcom association

Labour is in a difficult position - it needs Internet Mana (after the election) but can't afford to be tarnished by Dotcom during the campaign. This contradiction has been explained by Matthew Hooton: 'David Cunliffe can only become prime minister if Hone Harawira wins Te Tai Tokerau and brings Laila Harré, Annette Sykes and John Minto into parliament with him. At the same time, any overt endorsement by Mr Cunliffe of Mr Harawira would do more harm to Labour's still-strong election chances than what John Key feared would happen to National were he to endorse Colin Craig's Conservative Party. These brute facts explain the extraordinary manoeuvring that is underway in Mr Harawira's electorate' - see: Cunliffe's delicate dance with Harawira (paywalled).

Labour's own focus groups and opinion polling are likely to be showing centrist and swing voters being very wary or hostile towards Kim Dotcom. You can see this in TV3's recent polling, which shows that 59% of voters believe Labour should rule out working with Internet Mana - see Patrick Gower's Why is Cunliffe scared of Dotcom?.

It's this reason that is pushing Labour most to dissociate itself from the party that Dotcom founded and bankrolled. That's why we're seeing articles such as Claire Trevett's Cunliffe on Dotcom: 'We have nothing to do with him'.

And to see Cunliffe's level of discomfort, watch his interview on TV3's Firstline (together with Harawira's response): Harawira calls on Davis to apologise over 'smear' website.

Such strong statements are quite different to the type he was making last week, as reported by Claire Trevett in Cunliffe denies double standards over deals.

Labour's inclinations to distance itself from the 'Dotcom party' will likely increase with emergence of a questionable video of his party parties - see: Internet-Mana 'sinking to such a low'.

Online 'smear campaign' vetoed

The original story about Kelvin Davis' intended 'online smear campaign' against Internet Mana' was Tova O'Brien's Labour MP told off for anti-Internet Mana website.

In this report, O'Brien reveals the internal Labour Party emails about the fight in Te Tai Tokerau. Not only do they suggest that there are major divisions within Labour, but also that some parts of Labour are working in cahoots with their arch-enemy National: 'According to emails leaked to 3 News, Mr Davis' team doesn't see Prime Minister John Key and National as the enemy. It says its fight is against Mr Harawira'. Furthermore, according to the emails, the Davis team 'wanted the website to solicit donations, not aimed at traditional Labour supporters but believing National supporters may contribute to the Labour campaign'.

A second report by Tova O'Brien said that Davis has gone 'rogue' and that a statement he made on Facebook was a 'tirade' - see: David Cunliffe pulls Kelvin Davis into line over Dotcom attack. The report also reveals images of what Labour's proposed attack site looked like.

At the centre of Davis' Facebook statement is another strong attack on Internet Mana: 'I make no apologies about looking at a website that asked the public to donate $5, $10 or whatever they wish to koha, to bring down a fake. I'm just an ordinary Maori living up north trying to stop the biggest con in New Zealand's political history from being pulled against my whanau, my hapu, my iwi'.

Is there a Labour deal in Te Tai Tokerau?

There has been plenty of speculation that Labour has essentially decided not to try to beat Hone Harawira in his Te Tai Tokerau contest - due to the fact that this would probably kill off the party's overall electoral chances, and thereby reducing Labour's potential governing opportunities.

The emails don't necessarily indicate any deal. After examining the internal emails, Andrea Vance reports 'This theory falls down because the emails do not explicitly say any such thing. Instead, they are consistent with Labour's campaign message: Vote Positive' - see: Te Tai Tokerau tangles.

Jane Clifton disagrees, saying that 'the strong impression nevertheless is that Davis has been sandbagged. To tell a candidate he is not allowed to capitalise on the inauthenticity of his rival's position is a very unusual tactical move, to say the least' - see: A touch of class wars (paywalled).

Clifton says 'The official position is he must campaign to win the seat. The barely veiled real position is he must on no account try too hard.... In effect, Labour is crossing its fingers behind its back that Davis loses, despite having been self-righteous about coat-tail deals by other parties. Labour is blatantly keeping the door ajar for its needs'.

Labour's Phil Quin also argues that a covert deal exists in Te Tai Tokerau, and he condemns it in his post, The trouble with Kelvin Davis. Quin's post represents a strong challenge to his leader, and illustrates the deep divisions in the party.

Another Labour insider, Patrick Leyland, has penned a critical post, Bringing down a fake. He is particularly critical towards the leadership: 'David Cunliffe is putting Labour in a very awkward position by continuing to flip flop on doing a deal with Internet Mana. Last week he refused to rule them out, but then by this morning he had entirely changed his tune... The problem is that a leader that is shifty about who he will work with will very quickly lose all credibility. He just looks hungry for power at any cost, and if he's not going to back his own candidates and MPs, what hope do the people of New Zealand have that he will back them as Prime Minister?'

Cunliffe has now come out more firmly to rule Internet Mana out of being in a Labour-led government. But as Andrea Vance says, 'his remarks leave the door open for a confidence and supply deal, similar to that struck between National and the Maori Party' - see: Labour cool on Internet-Mana deal.

Rightwing mischief making in Te Tai Tokerau

Perhaps the most interesting element of the Te Tai Tokerau saga has been the involvement of the political right - especially National partisans Matthew Hooton, David Farrar and Cameron Slater - who appear keen to help Davis kill off the Internet Mana Party. According to Andrea Vance, this is 'right-wing mischief making', and 'has got nothing to do with what a great bloke Davis is. It's got everything to do with keeping Internet-Mana out of Government. With the added bonus of painting Cunliffe - who has vowed to scrap coat-tailing - as a hypocrite. I'm calling it: it's more dirty tricks than dirty deal' - see: Te Tai Tokerau tangles.

So is Labour complicit and fully in cahoots with National in this electorate? Matthew Hooton suggests he was welcomed into the campaign: 'Perhaps out of desperation, some of Mr Davis' supporters even approached me, asking if I would organise a corporate fundraising lunch for their candidate, after hearing of a similar event for another Labour candidate I was associated with' - see: Cunliffe's delicate dance with Harawira (paywalled).

In another column, Hooton has also been encouraging the National and Maori parties to fall in behind the Labour campaign in the electorate. He explained in the weekend that Harawira could be beaten if the parties of the right backed Labour: 'Three years ago, Mr Harawira only sneaked back into parliament, beating Labour's Kelvin Davis by a mere 1165 votes, 6% of those cast. Labour won the party vote easily, by 10%. For his part, Mr Harawira's majority was well less than National's party vote and also NZ First's' - see: One more deal Key should do (paywalled).

Hooton argued that the Maori Party candidate, Te Hira Paenga 'should fall on his taiaha'. He says that 'Looking at the numbers, were the Maori Party to indicate its supporters should back Labour's Mr Davis, he would be a shoe in. Mr Harawira would be toast and Laila Harré, Annette Sykes and John Minto would also fail to grace the doors of parliament. Beyond a Maori Party nod, Mr Davis would become invincible were Mr Key and Winston Peters to also back him over the Harawira clan'.

Others on the right have joined Hooton. As Claire Trevett reports, 'National pollster David Farrar and Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater have donated about $100 each to the campaign of Labour's Kelvin Davis' - see: Right bloggers donate to Labour campaign. And even though Davis passed the money onto Rape Crisis instead, Farrar still mischievously expressed his contentment: Glad to help.

Finally, to better understand the contests occurring in the Maori seats - including debates over electorate deals - watch Torben Akel's very good 14-minute investigation, The battle for the Maori seats.

- 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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