So Laila Harre is back in politics via the most unlikely of vehicles -- the Internet Party. The question is why, why, why has she done it
Laila Harre's decision to lead the Internet Party is the most curious part of a most curious affair, yet at very least shows a determination by the left to get the best bang for their buck at this election.
Harre, whatever her critics might say, provides the Internet Party with much stronger leadership and more credibility and nous than anyone expected. She is a politician whose contributions to the country's public life have been missed since her last stint in parliament. While I'm sure she's been having a perfectly pleasant life -- one she might be pining for before long -- her talents have been wasted. What's odd is that she should choose to come out of political retirement for the sake of the Internet Party.
Fact is, you'd assume that she wouldn't. So who is she really back in business for? Her mates in Mana? For her former comrade Matt McCarten over at Labour?
Presumably Harre is motivated by a belief that the existence and impact of the Kim Dotcom-backed Internet Party is good for the New Zealand left and a change of government. That statement in itself crosses a few bridges of the bizarre and over the raging torrent of common sense, and yet even before Harre herself was unveiled you could see the logic.
Mana, and now Harre, are ensuring the left gets the most bang possible for its electoral buck. First, Mana gets money. Bucks in the most basic sense. Sure, John Minto says it's got all the money it can possibly spend during the election campaign, but there's time between now and then to build a profile. And electorate campaigns, especially in the vast Maori seats, are expensive. Remember, through all the smoke and mirrors, Mana's main competition is the Maori Party, a party which is struggling to raise money for its campaigns. Annette Sykes now has a clear financial advantage in her efforts to upset Te Ururoa Flavell in Waiariki, for example.
Second, it has the Internet Party's app and all its social media and technological know-how. Why does that matter? Where the interests of these two very different parties really do merge is over their need to get non-voters motivated to vote. Endless seminars, academic papers and work by the Electoral Commission can stress how important it is to "engage" with young voters, but Dotcom and his staff know how to do that in everyday life. Add to that the cult of celebrity (and anti-heroism) around Dotcom and you can see how that could spark interest in younger voters who wouldn't know their PPL from their TPP.
But just as importantly it maxmises the party's vote. Mana could easily have found itself with a seat and something around one percent of the party vote, just shy of a second MP. Now a second MP is much more likely and, hey, that second MP will be none other than Laila Harre. It couldn't have worked out much better for them. It can harness the Internet Party's party vote (be it 0.5 percent or four times that much) and not let it slide into political oblivion.
So while right-wing commentators at first blush are trying to paint this as Harre being bought and sold by Kim Dotcom, you've got to wonder if it's the other way round. Has the far left of New Zealand's politics hijacked a very rich immgrants money and sense of grievance to use it to its own ends.
Yes, it is gaming the system. I'm not a fan of coat-tailing and reckon National should have dealt with it this term, following the Electoral Commission's review. But the cabinet chose not to for the sake of its own deals, so National MPs have no moral high ground from which to criticise Mana-Internet. Live by the cuppa, die by the cuppa.
The losers look to be the Greens, because Laila Harre will give a direct competitor for young and non-mainstream voters some credibility. But I'm not sure it's as big a deal as some are making out. I'm struggling to imagine too many voters who were planning to tick the Greens who would be terribly swayed by Mana-Internet. The genuine environmentalists, the Grey Lynn liberals and those attracted to the Greens' decency are hardly going to take some convincing before they buy the Mana-Internet package.
In truth, anyone who wants to see a change of government at this election must, with a glance to the polls, realise that it will take every last vote. If Labour's efforts with the unions can motivate some, and the Greens a few, and then Mana-Internet more again, well, that's all to the good for them. (And really, the more voters we get, the happier we should all be, regardless of whether we're left, right or indifferent.)
For that reason, Labour will be pretty happy about this result. It wants turnout. Alternatively, if it turns out this damages Mana, Labour will benefit in the Maori seats. So win-win. Except, of course, that if Labour needs the help of this deal to become government it makes a mockery of the anti-National mockery by the likes of MP Iain Lees-Galloway, when just six months ago he stressed the importance of doing away with coat-tailing:
“The current regime has been a disaster for democracy. It has delivered us Rodney Hide, John Banks, Peter Dunne and now Colin Craig.
“People are sick of these cosy political deals designed to circumvent our democratic system.
“Anyone voting against this bill will be way out-of-step with the New Zealand public".
If voting against the bill shows you're "out of step", what does getting into government on the back of one mean?
Which brings us back to Harre herself. As someone tweeted today "why, why, why, Laila?" (If you don't get it, think Tom Jones). If she's decided she wants to enter parliament again, why not choose to go with one of the bigger parties?
Is there a belief that Dotcom is a genuine, even altrusitic, benefactor? Does she think he can be used in the expensive launch phase of a party and then, with MPs and all the advantages of incumbency in place, discarded? What happens in year three or four of this project? Does she think that a tech-based party is really a new alignment in politics and will appeal to a new generation?
Because if not, why not stick with the Greens? Or, if her ambition allowed, go with Labour? I don't know her personal relationships with or feelings towards Labour, but I'd assume the base would be sympathetic, that she'd have a champion in the leader's office in McCarten, and that she could have walked into a safe seat or hig list ranking. Given her experience and skill, you'd expect a rapid rise to the front bench and, if she really wanted it, even the leadership and the hope of being Prime Minister one day. My observation is that she has the skillset to be a contender.
So why instead choose to run a fringe party? Just the appeal of running the shop rather than being a cog in the wheel? Or something more?