John Armstrong 's Opinion

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Internet Mana best taken seriously

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Laila Harré, with Hone Harawira and Kim Dotcom. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Laila Harré, with Hone Harawira and Kim Dotcom. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Sue Bradford may not be everyone's cup of tea. But the veteran activist and former Green MP deserves credit for her point-blank refusal to be enticed into joining those entranced by the cult of personality otherwise known as Kim Dotcom.

As someone who has spent her adult life going into battle for the poor and the powerless, Bradford is the last person who would doff their cloth cap at someone whom she dubs as a "neo-liberal capitalist millionaire". She does not mean that as an insult. She sees it simply a statement of fact.

Working in league with Dotcom would be pure anathema for her because he is someone totally incompatible with the ethos which drives the Mana movement.

For Hone Harawira, Mana's leader, Dotcom is a welcome means to an end, however; namely an electoral pact with Dotcom's Internet Party..

So Bradford has walked from Mana despite being a founding member of the three-year-old political movement.

Those that remained barely seemed to notice. Their eyes were filled with dollar signs instead.

One familiar face was soon replaced by another. Slipping with ease into her new role as the leader of the fledgling Internet Party, Laila Harre greeted Dotcom's announcement that he was bank-rolling his political vehicle with a further $3 million as welcome change. For once, a really big cheque was being written for a party on the left, not the right.

The big question is whether there are hidden strings attached - as the Prime Minister is already reminding everyone. It is the case that having the left in power offers the best chance of Dotcom staying put.

The night life in Coatesville may not extend much beyond possums dancing power cables - a tad quiet for someone who once upon a time hired expensive yachts to party on the French Riviera. But it sure beats life in a boiler suit on a chain gang in deepest, darkest Tennessee.

Dotcom was upfront about his $3 million donation. But that may have been a bit of mischief designed to send a shiver down the spines of other parties struggling to raise money for an election now less than four months away.

The collective gulp from across the political spectrum suggested he had succeeded.

There seems to be a collective (and convenient) memory loss in some quarters of the left as to where Dotcom's money is from. But then Dotcom is accorded folk-hero status as some latter day Robin Hood extracting his due from the barons of Hollywood.

Such is the naivete of the public and politicians. It seems there is no shortage of the latter willing to fall under the spell of this particular Wizard of Oz.

But those yet to take the Yellow Brick Road to this doubtful magician's Emerald City should first partake of a little light reading in the shape of the 72-page grand jury indictment of charges prepared by the United States Justice Department and laid against Dotcom and his Megaupload buddies and filed in a court in east Virginia.

For all that, when your party is registering at barely 1 per cent in the polls, you take what you can get. And the likes of Dotcom do not often come knocking.

Preferring naked pragmatism to Bradford's principle, Harawira has pulled off something of a coup.

Last Tuesday witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Mana and the Internet Party setting up an overarching new party - Internet Mana - which will fight for the party vote with a single list of candidates drawn from both component parties.

Combining the two parties' share of the party vote would up the chances of securing more MPs in the next Parliament.

That would be aided by Harawira holding his Te Tai Tokerau, thus allowing MPs to "coat-tail" into the House without the overarching party having to reach the 5 per cent threshold. But Labour (perhaps unwisely) is not going to give him a free ride in the seat.

Still, with his seat crucial to the Internet Party getting into Parliament, Harawira was able to drive a hard bargain.

He secured the leadership of the new party, three of the first four slots for Mana on the party list, chair of the internal committee running the election campaign, and access to funding.

Bradford warns Mana will end up making an unintended shift away from its niche on the left as it is forced to compromise to work with the Internet Party.

That, however, will be tempered by the left-leaning Harre's presence. She initially seemed an odd choice for leader. Harre is only 48. But she has been around the political traps on and off for a long time. While she will target the young who are eligible to vote but who do not, it had been expected the Internet Party would opt for a fresh face with a highly computer literate mind.

Few votes under the age of 30 will have much memory of the last time Harre hit the headlines - the break-up of the Alliance back in 2002. But that generation will find out what she thinks soon enough.

Harre's appointment will blur the lines between the two component parties. Her beliefs as such would slot easily into Mana's vision. The upshot is that Harawira has effectively negotiated the formation of a "Super Mana Party" - and one funded by Dotcom for the four months until the election to the tune of $3 million.

Neither Harawira nor Harre are shrinking violets. Harre can also be an abrasive personality. The big test will be for them to get on and work collaboratively - rather than treading on each other's toes. The first target must be the destruction of National's ally, the Maori Party.

The $3 million war chest will help considerably. When was the last time - if ever - that a party of the left had that kind of money to throw around in an election?

The net effect of the week's comings-and-goings is that the Internet Party suddenly has to be taken seriously.

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.

But - along with the help of Harawira - Dotcom's interventions have some politicians behaving like those possums in the Coatesville headlights.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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