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?

Comments (11)

by Andrew Geddis on May 28, 2014
Andrew Geddis

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.

Hey! That's my line!!

by Andrew Geddis on May 28, 2014
Andrew Geddis

If she's decided she wants to enter parliament again, why not choose to go with one of the bigger parties?

Who? The Greens aren't going to give one of its top 15 places to a newby member, no matter how talented (remember it is party members who rank the list, and Harre doesn't have any real history in the party ... it's taken James Shaw this long to break into electable territory!). And what exactly is her power base in Labour - there's lots of union-connected individuals ahead of her on any list.

So it's not as if she had many choices ... did she?

by Bruce Thorpe on May 28, 2014
Bruce Thorpe

        When the Mana/Inet pairing gets enough votes fof Harre to be in the house, she can becomea party leader in her own right,

in position for either a very good cabinet portfolio

or a powerful base within the parliamentary bureaucracy. from which to build.


by Andrew Geddis on May 28, 2014
Andrew Geddis

When the Mana/Inet pairing gets enough votes fof Harre to be in the house, she can become a party leader in her own right.


No. She can't.

Under S.O. 34, a new parliamentary political party (i.e. not the Internet-MANA party) has to have 6 members. So if Harre leaves the Internet-MANA party, she'd have to sit as an independent MP without getting the extra funding a party leader does.

by Nick Gibbs on May 28, 2014
Nick Gibbs

If the Left don't win this time and we end up with a (shrunken) Labour, Greens, Mana-Internet opposition we'll see some seriously interesting dog fights next year. Especially if Harre, Minto et al make it into the house.

by Alan Johnstone on May 28, 2014
Alan Johnstone

A mixed day for annette sykes; she's bumped down a place in the list, but should ahve more mony to spend on her seat. She missed out on Waiariki by 2,000 votes last time out, it's a big bridge given the very low turn out (55%?) in this seat.

I've been saying all year that if Labour wants to govern it has to do just one thing, run a party vote only campagin in the Maori seats and leave them to Mana. Seven brown "epsoms" and Cunliffe as PM. Pride probably prevents this though.

 
by Andrew R on May 29, 2014
Andrew R

A lot of political commentators will look silly if Laila Harre is not announced as Internet Party leader today.  Rumour wins out over fact again.

by Alistair Connor on May 29, 2014
Alistair Connor

What's in it for Laila? Well! Where to begin?

I've always thought there was ample room, and a crying need, for a party to the left of Labour (and of the Greens, with their inevitable drift to the centre). Jim's Alliance, a rag-tag bag, was too diverse. Laila's Alliance, once she'd dumped Jim, could have been that... but she lost. 

She could have had an eminently electable place on the Green list. Her small-g green credentials are impeccable; she would have just had to schmooze a bit (which is perhaps not in her temperament). She could, no doubt, have had a Labour seat (she has a surprisingly positive view of the current Labour Party, which is, in her words, no longer Clark's third-wayers).

But this is her chance to optimise the electoral space for the left. And she can give free rein to her temperament; no need to suck up to anyone, she can be a radical voice, but not merely a voice in the wilderness. 

 

by Andrew Geddis on May 29, 2014
Andrew Geddis

A lot of political commentators will look silly if Laila Harre is not announced as Internet Party leader today.

Yes. We will. In fact, it would be hilarious!

Rumour wins out over fact again.

Well, a "rumour" can be either turn out to be a "fact" or "not a fact". And I think there's enough circumstantial evidence that it's not unreasonable to treat this rumour as the former.

by Richard Aston on May 29, 2014
Richard Aston

Man what an interesting election this has turned out to be ! Love it.

I am not sure that trying to stuff the Internet/Mana party into the old left/right paradigm is meaningful any more. Perhaps something else is emerging here.

The mana/internet party seemed at first glance an odd alliance but I wonder what influence the shear human power of the maori world had on the Internet Party people . To emerse yourself in even a part of that world can be a moving experiance - life changing for some- . I am thinking about Doug Graham's "conversion" . Humanising the digital world with maori wairua seems like a creative way to evolve a new political force.

Getting Laila Harre as leader is creative thinking, she is a solid and principlied politician, its good to see her back. 

It could suprise us all. The big push for the young non voters, helped with the very well organised  RockEnrol campaign may well produce some suprises come election day.

Alan, I agree nows the opportunity for Labour to show some creativity and back off some maori seats to favour Mana , especially Te Tai Tokerau. Labour needs to drop its silly ambitions for a majority it is own right and look towards a strong coalition grouping. That will be what the Nats are worried about right now.

Its going to be a wild ride , looking forward to it.

 

 

 

 

by Tim Watkin on May 29, 2014
Tim Watkin

Andrew R, while nothing was officially confirmed, rest assured it was well checked out before I posted!

Alistair, very well said:

But this is her chance to optimise the electoral space for the left. And she can give free rein to her temperament; no need to suck up to anyone, she can be a radical voice, but not merely a voice in the wilderness

I think that's probably it in a nutshell.

Andrew, I'd have thought she could have pushed through the Greens line-up into their top ten given her cred, profile and experience. I'd have thought something similar in Labour too, but I could be blinded by my own confidence in her ability. After a few conversations in the past 24 hours I'd take on board that all the Alliance fighting left some bad associations within Labour and that her politics, frankly, are further left than Labour might feel comfortable with.

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