If Laila Harre is going to lead the Internet Party, what does that mean? Good? Bad? Happy? Sad?
The NBR's scoop (paywall) that Laila Harre will tomorrow be announced as leader of the Internet Party (and thus will be #2 on the Internet-MANA Party list) has been up for over an hour now, and no-one on Twitter has yet shot it down. This is as close as you get to confirmation of a truth universal in today's age. So now the legend has become fact, I'm printing the legend.
The news suddenly makes the whole Internet-MANA link up make a lot more sense. Harre's background in the Alliance and her pretty unimpeachable left-wing credentials make her an easy person for them to trust and work with. What is more, she's smart and competent, and is bloody good at the job of politics. In fact, if Harre wasn't leading the Internet Party, she's just the kind of person that the MANA Movement would want to be sending into Parliament anyway.
Which makes me wonder if the whole "Dotcom's bought MANA off" meme has got things completely the wrong way around. Harre's appointment instead makes it look a lot like the Internet Party and Dotcom's money has been appropriated by a group of fairly savvy left-wing political operatives of long standing, who've fashioned it into something that its founder/funder/"visionary" may not have anticipated. We're used to thinking of Dotcom as some kind of super Bond-villian who we assume is playing a very clever long-game that we can't really understand. But maybe, just maybe, he's a bit of a political naïf who is shit-scared of being sent to the US, has lots of legal and personal problems that are consuming his time, doesn't really get how to go about organising a political party, and so actually has ended up serving the agendas of others around him.
It probably is not coincidental, therefore, that the Internet Party's secretary is Anna Sutherland, who worked for the Alliance back in the day when Lailla Harre was an MP. And now, with Harre at the helm and the Internet-MANA deal stitched up, the practical effect is that the first 4 MPs it will put into Parliament are pretty staunch left-of-center political activists of long standing.
Who, then, are the big losers from all of this? The Greens will be pretty horrified about what has just happened. Not only was Harre working for them until recently, but put her in a bundle with a party espousing hip techno-freedom policies, stauncher left-of-center fighters for social justice (when was the last time you saw Green Party banners protesting outside the PM's visit to a school?) and strong advocates for Maori empowerment and you've got a major competitor pushing into their voter base. So it will be interesting to see what the Greens do here - do they protect their flank, or do they instead try to move further into Labour's turf by playing up their responsible economic credentials?
The Maori Party also will be pretty concerned about this linkup. Te Ururoa Flavell's attack on the linkup - that it will "utilise [the Maori seats] to bring somebody in who is questionable about their knowledge about things Maori and indeed Te Tai Tokerau, is a bit of a slap in the face for Maori voters" - sets out the line that the Maori Party will run from now till election day. The MANA Movement isn't a Maori party anymore - it's a shell for Pakeha (and foreign Pakeha, at that) interests. Whether that charge resonates, given Laila Harre's background in the union movement and familiarity with Maori concerns, we'll just have to see.
But the most interesting reaction of all will be that of the National Party. The announcement of Harre's leadership role means that there's precisely zero chance that the new party will take any votes off National directly. But there's every chance that come September 20 this Internet-Mana Party linkup is going to add one or two seats (and maybe more ... ipredict presently is favouring the Internet-Mana Party getting 3% of the vote, or 4 MPs) to the "not National" side of the political balance beam. If those seats come at the expense of the Maori Party (in Waiariki, say), or if they come out of previous non-voters getting into the game, then that will hurt National's chances of being able to pull together a governing majority.
So - what is National now going to do about the Conservatives? How are they going to accomodate a party whose 2.65% at the last election will likely only get bigger this time around? Because I just don't think that they can afford to hope the Conservatives get to 5%, and I also don't think that they can afford to let those votes go to waste.
So, here's my prediction. There'll be very little criticism from National over the Internet-MANA Party's decision to use the electorate lifeboat rule to get over the representation threshold. (Not least because that rule still only exists because National vetoed the recommendation to remove it.) And at some point in the next month or so, Murray McCully will fall on his sword and accept his future in Parliament is on the National Party list. Whereupon the good voters of East Coast Bays will be informed of their duty to elect Colin Craig.