How Internet Mana could help National reach 50%

Internet Mana gives National a cast of villians to parade before voters

The Internet Mana party does not, in any real sense, exist. Nor, while we're at it, does United Future; ACT once existed as a neo-liberal nostalgia project, but no more.

Yet whereas the latter pair are struggling to evade their past, it's possible that the Internet Mana party may still be willed into existence.

For one thing, Kim Dotcom chose his leader wisely. In Laila Harre, he has found a public face capable of remaining heroically straight while reciting lines like “I’m looking forward to the debate within the party”, as she did last week about cannabis decriminalisation. This is not to say drug policy isn’t a legitimate area of public policy contention — as it happens, I'm something of a doctrinaire libertarian on the subject — but rather to point out that the Internet Mana Party in its current form hardly seems equipped to adjudicate on this or any other subject in any serious, let alone remotely democratic way.

However sincere her motives or non-ironic her delivery, the facts behind Harre’s reemergence in the public arena are troubling. She has not been elected leader of a political party as much as cast in that role by a German fugitive millionaire with a track record of using his fortune to purchase political influence and, not coincidentally, avoid extradition. Perhaps lured by the prospect of abundant resources, a policy blank slate and, to be fair, in the absence of many better options, Harre, along with Hone Harawira and John Minto, have opted to hitch New Zealand’s Perennially Dissatisfied Left to Dotcom’s careering bandwagon. It’s hard not to admire the audacity at play here, especially given the hair-trigger propensity of this coterie to accuse political enemies of cynical opportunism at the merest hint of a dropped hat.

In pursuit of political legitimacy, Dotcom’s millions won’t amount to much unless the media plays along — and coverage of Harre’s cannabis stance, as well as the NZ Idol-style list selection over the weekend, suggests Internet Mana’s shiny newness is too much for an otherwise bored press gallery to ignore.

John Key, meanwhile, could hardly script a more favourable turn of events, or conjure a better cast of villains: "That's what you're going to see from the far left of politics,” he warned voters last month, "you'll be led by Russel Norman, Kim Dotcom, Mana, David Cunliffe”. By refusing to close the door on Internet Mana, and even talking up Laila Harre’s political pedigree, Cunliffe risks giving credence to exactly that ungainly prospect. This stance, understandable if somewhat timid and ambiguous, was cast in unflattering light by the forthright rejection of Internet Mana as a “scam” by Kelvin Davis, Labour’s candidate in Te Tai Tokerau.

The speed and ferocity of the reaction to Davis’ statement was revealing in itself. On the left-wing blogosphere and for commentators like Chris Trotter, Davis’ determination to topple Harawira is borderline apostasy. To Trotter, it exposed Davis as an "aggressive hard-man bereft of all strategic and tactical understanding”, “an assimilationist on Maori development” and an “authoritarian" who should be told (by Cunliffe or his chief of staff Matt McCarten) to “pull his head in”. The message is clear, if baffling: anyone who dares question the legitimacy of Internet Mana or seeks to undermine its electoral strategy, is a no good, sell out, right wing cad.

As for whether voters themselves will take part in the Internet Mana thought experiment, only time and opinion polls will tell. It would be nice to think not.

This much seems clear: if Dotcom and Laila Harre continue to dominate the headlines eight weeks from now, the National Party will be heading to fifty percent in a canter.