Claire Trevett 's Opinion

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Political prenup as Harawira weds sugar daddy

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The Mana and Internet Parties put a ring on it. Photos / NZ Herald
The Mana and Internet Parties put a ring on it. Photos / NZ Herald

We are gathered today to celebrate the marriage of Mana and the Internet Party, a marriage served up somewhat like a quirky burger at a fast food joint: it is for a limited time only.

It is very much an arranged marriage. The dowries were critical — the Internet Party and Mana Party rifled through each other's glory boxes and decided they liked what they saw. For Harawira that was a stash of filthy lucre. For Dotcom, Harawira's Te Tai Tokerau electorate seat amounted to a magic carpet ride into Parliament, ensuring his voters did not believe theirs would be wasted votes.

So today Harawira will don his wedding suit and buttonhole and stand at the front of the aisle in the Langham Hotel ballroom to await his new bride, expected to be Laila Harre. That in itself is odd — on Harre's part at least. But Harre has left-wing activist credentials which explain why Harawira was comfortable with placing her second on the joint list and will make the merger more palatable to some in Mana. The Internet Party's Vikram Kumar has emphasised, however, that Dotcom himself is "very much still the party's visionary".

It is certainly a unique arrangement. Other parties have merged to assist electoral chances, often only to fall apart later in bitter acrimony. Harawira is clearly wary of what might happen once the honeymoon is over. The prenuptial agreement is possibly the first in history to set an actual date for a divorce. That divorce will come on November 1, when the two parties have agreed their alliance will end.

Harawira, who last election campaigned on poverty, health, housing and food for the poor, is suddenly a lot more interested in other issues, such as the internet and spy agencies. He has denied it was a dodgy deal, akin to National's one with Act over Epsom. He preferred to described it as a "strategic relationship", pure and clean.

In the meantime, the ceremony has reached the point where the priest has asked whether anyone has an objection to the marriage.

Sue Bradford, one of Mana's founding members, was the first to succumb to what she clearly believed was the rank fug of hypocrisy. Bradford put on a creditable impression of Usain Bolt, so quickly did she sprint down the aisle into the fresh air outside. It is not surprising she felt miffed to be so summarily discarded in favour of Dotcom. It was Bradford who helped give Mana wider credibility when it first set up. She pondered long and hard before lending her reputation to that party and made it clear it was because she trusted Harawira as a man of principle.

Labour was fairly quiet on it and wouldn't rule out working with either Mana or the Internet Party after the election. However, Labour's Te Tai Tokerau candidate, Kelvin Davis, was less restrained. On Radio NZ he said the "blatant resource grab" made a joke of the Maori seats and took Maori voters for granted. He questioned how someone who claimed to support the poor could "get into bed with a raging capitalist" .

But it was the Maori Party who were in true paroxysms of joy. Harawira has persistently criticised them for selling out Maori by dealing with National, a party that existed to "embolden the rich". As far as the Maori Party is concerned, Harawira has now bent the barrel of the rifle back so it points at himself. Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell made the point that at least their marriage of convenience had netted some fruits for Maori. All the Internet Party marriage had done so far was deliver fruits to one Maori - Harawira - who may well find Dotcom's helicopter a better campaign vehicle than his Ford Falcon.

Little wonder Flavell was taking to Twitter and the media yesterday, claiming Harawira was abusing the Maori seats and those who had voted for him by trying to piggyback a predominantly rich, Pakeha party into Parliament.

There are those on the left who don't agree with the deal either, and believe Harawira has effectively allowed his party to be colonised by a rich Pakeha, paid off in the modern equivalent of beads and blankets: a smartphone app and cash.

Those who support it do so on predominantly practical grounds, giving a potential boost to Mana's electoral chances. They see the Internet Party as a pirate party which can tap into the disfranchised, anti-establishment vote. If Dotcom is extradited, it will help rather than hinder in garnering that vote by compounding the view they already hold of Dotcom as a martyr.

Harawira has shown brutal political pragmatism. He has put some effort into channelling Jessie J, claiming it wasn't all about the money. But the most compelling reason he's been able to come up with for what it might offer the Maori who vote him into Parliament is that young Maori use the internet.

He has clearly learned political survival comes down to one day — election day — and money does matter in election campaigns. So despite all his criticisms of the Maori Party calling on the services of the Prime Minister to fundraise, Harawira has hooked up the mother of all fundraising methods: one big sugardaddy.

Last election year the Mana Party declared a grand total of $37,584 from 10 donations. This year Dotcom has already put in $250,000 for the Internet Party. It will be Dotcom who funds the bulk of the campaign, at least for the joint party vote campaign.

As a caller on Radio Live said, you can't strut around like Willie Wonka for too long before you have to start handing out chocolate. In this version, Harawira has cast himself as Augustus Gloop. He can only hope that he doesn't meet the same end.

- NZ Herald

Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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