If you'll excuse the paraphrasing of Billy Bragg, it seems appropriate as the left leave the moral high ground for a bit of electoral mud-wrestling and coat-tailing. But at what cost?
Call it genius or hypocrisy, but the Mana Internet alliance, Laila Harre's decision to lead the Internet Party into this year's election and Kim Dotcom's record $3 million donation creates all sort of problems on the left of New Zealand politics. It also, to me, feels like something worth grieving no matter how the cards fall on September 20.
That combination of factors last week were, to my mind, a turning of a page.
Deals were National's problem. Coat-tailing was something for the right. One area where Key has been hit in the polls in the past was his decision to have that Epsom cup of tea at the previous election. Labour and its allies this year could have risen above that and offered to be the government of no deals, the government that could reach a majority without coat-tailing.
It would have been a curious MMP battle – the not-the-largest-parties vs the coat-tailing parties as to who would be able to convince voters their construct was least worrying.
Now Labour and the Greens or Labour and New Zealand First (or some combo) may still be able to avoid all that to find a majority. But given Labour's poor polling it's not now in a position to rule out the opportunity presented last week when Mana and the Internet Party aligned and Laila Harre re-entered the political ring as the Internet Party's leader. Suddenly, deals are an issues for both sides of the aisle and voters will be able to reflect on how both handle them before voting.
The view that Harre, Mana and the IP are genuisues stems from the fact that so long as Hone Harawira retains Te Tai Tokerau or Annette Sykes picks up Waiariki, no vote to change the government will be wasted by the IP's failure to win a seat or reach 5 percent. It's maths, and in election year we all know that's what politics becomes. If Mana and Labour can wipe out the Maori Party in the Maori electorates, that's three seats potentially not available to National. (The irony of course is that if National can get across the line with just United Future and ACT – or even with the addition of the Conservatives – then we could end up with the most right-wing government we've seen since the Shipley years).
What's more, the hard left – largely a group of former Alliance MPs and fellow travellers – now have the sort of resources they never thought would be at their disposal; that is, the resources of the mega rich. Kim Dotcom has donated $3 million – the largest single donation in New Zealand's political history – to a policy platform that already includes free (or, if you prefer, fully tax-payer funded) tertiary education and will of necessity find much more in common with Mana than other parties. Mana's policies include a tax-free zone up to $27,000, abolishing GST, building 20,000 state houses in two years and significantly increasing benefits and the minimum wage.
And this is where it starts to get difficult.
First, the deals and donation. Harre says she's unapologetic about taking MMP back for the people, but it's the antithesis of what the Greens, her former employers, have argued for. Rather than taking the high moral ground and fixing MMP, as New Zealanders want, she's willing to exploit the flaws in the current system to her party's advantage.
It's real politik and it may work, but not only does it relinquish a line of attack on her opponents on the right, it leaves her to stand accused of hypocrisy, given her previous alignments (such as with the Greens). It also risks damaging the wider left in the eyes of centrist swing voters, but that's a moot point.
Before last week, the left-of-centre parties could point to their opponents and say that ACT and United Future were percentage point parties needing strategic voting by National supporters to prop them up. An honest-to-goodness vote and they're gone. If they thought there was no chance of winning over the Maori Party to their cause, they could also condemn it for being dependent on National's fund-raising ability.
No more. Mana and the Internet Party have taken the money and done the deal. And so long as Labour and the Greens feel compelled to keep the door open to a coalition deal with them – and in doing so refrain from expressing their honest criticism – the two larger centre-left parties have been snookered from the left. Yet, it may be a snookering that ends up winning them the game.
The serious problem of hypocrisy that Harre faces is her willingness to take Dotcom's donation all the while evading questions about his background and business dealings. Now there's plenty of room to debate Dotcom's career – was Megaupload any worse than YouTube? Who's telling the truth about his alleged abuse of contractors? What's your view on internet freedoms versus copyright laws? But he's by any definition 'big business' and he brings with him convictions, an extradition order and all sorts of allegations from US authorities.
That's before we even mention the fact of his previous large political donation – $50,000 in two cheques to the mayoral campaign of right-winger John Banks. My, how quickly his money has changed direction.
For Harre to continue her attacks this past weekend on National's "crony capitalism" such as the SkyCity deal is out and out hypocrisy. She's now no better or worse in her electoral dealings and business wheelings than John Key.
Then, there's the policy hypocrisy. Or at least, the policy accommodations. I noted that Dotcom once endorsed Banks. As Harre was reminded on The Nation, at the party launch Dotcom said New Zealand was in dire economic straits because National had borrowed heavily during the Great Recession. Such public debt was surely a bad thing, the entrepreneur said. Yet look again at those policies I mentioned above. That sort of thinking is expensive and requires significant borrowing. Through the past five years the borrowing would have been, well, much larger than that undertaken by National.
What about just increasing taxes to pay for it all, you might ask. Q+A reminded Harre that her party's sponsor had told the programme he wanted to found a party that helped those who were heavily taxed. So no succour there. Then there's Dotcom's libertarian approach to the internet. Is Harre comfortable with the idea at that end of the free internet debate, that copyright laws are essentially obselete? Will she not champion the small musicians and doco-makers and the like who see their work put online without getting a cut? She and he are at odds on some very fundamental political points..
Such policy gaps stretch Harre's political integrity. The questions is whether voters will see it as stretching to breaking point. Or not.
The obvious conclusion is that these forces – Dotcom, Mana and the Internet Party – have only one thing in common and that's the desire to change the government. That in and of itself is perfectly legit. Think about the "Helengrad" nonsense during the Clark years. The methods may even be as effective as they are brutal. But the willingness to go outside the spirit of the law is new for left-wing minor parties. These were the parties which, regardless of what you thought of their policies, led by example and recalled a more honourable way of competing for office.
The Internet Party has chosen another code, one which justifies being as bad as the other lot or simply telling the ref "they started it"; these are not the sort of political morals you would teach your children. They are about the ends and bugger the means. Or, if you'd rather, profiting the man even if he loses his soul. And so while I can admire the maths, I can't help regretting the price being paid.