I wasn’t sure whether to snort Riesling out of my nose or furrow my brow in a perplexed manner when I read the news that Kim Dotcom has apparently persuaded a sitting MP to join the fledgling Internet Party. And not just that – he’s in talks to merge the Internet Party with Mana, ensuring the (joint) part(y/ies) will roll on into parliament with at least one electorate seat! But wait, there’s more! He’s also in talks with “a number of other MPs that have won electorates and are likely to win electorates again”!
So, let’s deconstruct all of this.
Firstly, who is this mystery MP, this Scarlet Pimpernel of NZ politics? Well, notably, Dotcom doesn’t say that his first scalp is an electorate MP. If he already had an electorate MP lined up, I’m sure he’d be trumpeting the fact. So, which MPs currently have absolutely no chance of returning to parliament come September if their present situation remains the same? To my mind, only a certain Brendan Horan springs out.* He’s currently party-less, he’s already contemplated setting up a League of Misunderstood Independents in order to contest the upcoming election, and if he joined NZ First he obviously doesn’t believe strongly in anything in particular. A perfect fit for Kim Dotcom!
Quite whether Horan can actually add anything of value to the Internet Party seems debatable. There’s no chance he’ll be taking Tauranga of Simon Bridges, and his public persona (now somewhat mangled, despite being cleared of actually having done anything wrong with his mother’s funds) doesn’t seem likely to attract any further votes to the Internet Party that it wouldn’t otherwise have garnered.
But that’s where Mana comes in. If Dotcom can persuade Hone Harawira that the pair should join forces, and presuming Harawira holds his seat, then the Internet Party has its foot in the door. Of course, Harawira still has to sell that to the Mana Party executive, who will apparently consider the proposal this week. You can see the attraction for both sides – for Dotcom, there’s a fairly safe electorate seat; while for Mana there’s more campaign funding than the party could ever have dreamed of.
It’s risky though. Harawira risks looking like a hypocrite, selling out to the sort of individual he should be railing against. Plus, Mana have been talking up the possibility of Annette Sykes toppling Te Ururoa Flavell in Waiariki – rubbing up to Dotcom may very well tank her vote, and could conceivably cost Harawira votes in his own electorate. It’s one thing to grow the broader party vote, but if it results in your direct electorate supporters losing faith and voting Labour, then things end badly.
Additionally, there’s that small issue of policy. The Internet Party and the Mana Party don’t really seem to have any coherent idealogical grounds to bring them together, apart from a visceral loathing of John Key and a general disgruntlement with the Establishment. Which leader gets to decide policy? Or does Dotcom simply tack on some nebulous ‘internet freedom is a good thing’-schtick to Harawira’s usual feed-the-downtrodden-and-oppressed rhetoric?
And what about list rankings? I’d love to be a fly on the wall as the young, hip Internet Party activists fight with the dyed-in-the-wool, angry-young-men-and-women Mana activists for the few list spots that might see someone get elected (presuming an electorate seat is in fact held)!
This of course is before we even get into the supposed other MPs with electorate seats that Dotcom says he’s in talks with. That can undoubtedly be taken with a grain of salt. After all, which current electorate MPs are stupid enough to think that they’re bigger than the party they currently belong to? Electorate seats are nice bastions of safety against the vagaries of the party list. Forsaking the party (and let’s be clear, with a few exceptions, voters tend to vote for their electorate MP based on party allegiance rather than the individual person standing), hooking up with the Internet Party, and facing the wrath of one’s former party in an electorate contest, sounds like a bit of a suicide run…
The last significant attempt that I can remember of a minor party attempting to coalesce with other small minor parties, to grow their vote (“0.4% plus 0.1% plus 0.1% plus 0.025% equals, oh, still 0.625%…), was Peter Dunne, when he joined up with a bunch of fundamentalist Christians and some hunting and fishing nuts, and look at how well that turned out.
Nonetheless, regardless of how it all pans out, Dotcom’s aim right now is publicity, and he’s about to get that in spades.
* It should perhaps be noted that Horran has been approached by the Herald on Sunday, and hasn’t admitted talking to Dotcom about an electoral accommodation. But I’m sure he’s chosen his words wisely, and hasn’t used outright denial…