John Armstrong 's Opinion

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Step right up for the Dotcom political joke

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Media cannot get enough of this neverending saga, forcing National's other opponents into shadows

Dotcom has about as much chance of playing kingmaker in 2014 as he has of succeeding the Queen to the throne. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Dotcom has about as much chance of playing kingmaker in 2014 as he has of succeeding the Queen to the throne. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Whether the world is ready quite yet for Pam Corkery running around her neighbourhood waving her underwear in the air if Kim Dotcom pulls off the impossible and becomes a post-election kingmaker is a matter of no small debate. Or should that be "no smalls" debate?

Whatever, the world will likely have plenty of time yet to make up its mind. The broadcaster and former Alliance MP is most unlikely to find herself being held to her promise to divest herself of her lingerie before the 2017 election at the earliest.

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Dotcom has about as much chance of playing kingmaker in 2014 via his just-launched Internet Party as Corkery has of succeeding the Queen to the British throne, a prospect which no doubt would fill both women with horror.

The only question is whether in embarking on his doomed quest for political relevance and credibility, Dotcom proves to be more of a hindrance than help when it comes to satisfying Corkery's wish "to get our country back" from what she claims is a National Government which has sold traditional Kiwi values down the the river.

To help the left remove John Key, the internet mogul has to attract voters that are beyond the reach of Labour and the Greens. Indeed, the best chance for the Internet Party to establish itself as a viable political force and (eventually) get anywhere near the 5 per cent threshold is to position itself in the centre of the political spectrum or slightly to the right, just like New Zealand First, but targeting a much younger catchment of voters.

While Dotcom's persona can be used to make the introductions, if the Internet Party is to secure votes it has to convince voters that it is much bigger than its founder — and that it will not fold the moment he and the party's main source of income move offshore through being extradited to the United States to face trial.

If it cannot do so, the party will be deemed to be nothing more than an expensive ego trip by a political neophyte who thinks he can buy his way into Parliament even if only on a surrogate basis. As it is, the Internet Party risks being viewed as little more than a personality cult. The onus is on its founder and high-powered staff members to prove otherwise.

Truth is this is a terrible time to launch a new political party.

The optimum time is when the ruling party is struggling and the populace is fed up and looking for alternatives. The exact opposite currently holds. All Dotcom's intervention might do is further fragment the Opposition.

But it is too late now.

To find a niche in a crowded marketplace, the Internet Party needs to aggressively market itself as the sole voice of a new generation — one which talks only that generation's language and which has the vision, ideas and ultimately policies geared for day-to-day life in the "digital age" .

It should as much as possible antagonise and alienate the baby-boomers who by sheer weight of numbers will increasingly drive the policies of the major established parties.

The Internet Party should take up a golden opportunity to be in the vanguard of the coming rebellion of the young against the increasing political power exercised by burgeoning numbers of elderly gobbling up the taxes paid by the young not only to extend the length of their lives but maintain the quality of their lives in the manner to which they have become accustomed without sacrifice.

It means creating an "us versus them" mentality — a tactic which has served Winston Peters handsomely for two decades.

But the dividends do not come overnight. The trouble is this kind of strategy is not going to deliver in the short-term. The party needs to take the kind of long view that saw the Greens eventually get into Parliament in their own right and with their credibility enhanced. Even Colin Craig realises Rome was not built in a day even if the good Lord managed to create Heaven and Earth in just six.

Dotcom's lack of New Zealand citizenship bars him from Parliament. But he wants in. And he wants in now.

That he is willing to contemplate a vote-sharing deal with Hone Harawira's Mana Party is tacit admission that Dotcom knows he will not beat the threshold in September's ballot. But taking advantage of Harawira's hold on a threshold-removing electorate seat comes at what may be a heavy, even crippling price.

Harawira made it a precondition of further talks on such a deal that Dotcom commit himself to not working with Key and National post-election.

The immediate impact of that is to drastically cut any leverage — and thus appeal — that the Internet Party might have had if it had taken the same position as New Zealand First and hedged its bets on whether it would back a Labour-led or National-led Government .

Harawira — who has it all over Dotcom when it comes to tactics — is also forcing the Internet Party to display some sense of social awareness as a further price of a vote-sharing deal.

But trying to transform a creature of the political right into some kind of friend of the poor simply does not wash with voters. It sends a very mixed message and leaves voters thinking Dotcom is trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

Even more dangerous in political terms is the suspicion — quickly fuelled by National — that Dotcom's purpose in setting up the Internet Party is solely to make it a bottom-line of any post-election talks that whoever is Minister of Justice quash any court ruling which would force his extradition. Such a bottom-line would be preposterous and would amount to Dotcom's party being the sickest joke played on New Zealand voters.

As it is, the Internet Party may be the biggest joke played on the New Zealand body politic since members of the McGillicuddy Serious Party lampooned Winston Peters by literally trotting their way around Alexandra Park Raceway on foot while he was unveiling his then new party, New Zealand First, in a nearby grandstand. The only ones laughing currently are Key and National.

Every day that Dotcom deprives Key's other opponents of the oxygen of media coverage is one day closer to election day on September 20. It is one day less for the real election issues and priorities to take centre stage.

National's opponents can complain all they like. But the never ending Dotcom saga is a freak show of epic proportions with ever more twists and turns. The media simply finds it impossible to avert its eyes.

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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