The MANA Movement and the Internet Party have discovered they both have a lot in common. Each very much wants to get as many of its MPs into Parliament as it can.
If at the end of last year you had gone around telling people that Hone Harawira's MANA Movement was going to join forces with a political party founded by Kim Dotcom and devoted to the cause of internet freedoms, you'd have been viewed with a certain degree of scepticism. In fact, Burger King might have tried to use you in one of its pretty offensive advertising campaigns as a stereotyped individual with mental illness.
But here we are and that's what has happened, which goes to show how little any of us really know about the political future. And with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, this deal makes a fair bit of sense. Both parties certainly have the potential to get something from it.
MANA gets the benefit of sharing some of the extra support the Internet Party's appeal may attract, as well as the social media savvy that the tech-heads connected to that organisation can bring to bear. It also gets a wad of cash that, while they're being very quick to discount its importance, is no doubt going to be useful come campaign season.
The Internet Party gets a route into Parliament without having to reach the (frankly unobtainable) 5% threshold.
Oh - and they both hate John Key, and this gives them something of a chance to stuff his goal of a third term in office.
Yes, there are potential downsides. MANA's traditional support base may rebel at the deal. The Internet Party's techno-freedom crowd may balk at giving a vote that might deliver Annette Sykes into Parliament along with whomsoever the Internet Party are putting at the head of their candidate list. So maybe the whole enterprise will wither and die on the vine, taking both organisations down with it.
Those downsides clearly are livable with, however, given the possible upsides. For the Internet Party, it was either this or nothing. And for MANA, it needed to find another few thousand votes on its 2011 total to get even one more MP - votes it had to win in the face of a stronger Labour Party pushing hard into its vote base. But if it can come close to replicating its 2011 result and the Internet Party then adds a bit more than 1% to the joint party vote, then it'll get that second MP. And a combined party vote of 2.8% will give it John Minto as well.
So obviously the MANA Movement has made a cost-benefit analysis that has come out in the positive. It's not a clearly 100% right call, by any means, and it could all end in tears before bedtime. But it's an understandable one for it to make. Which is why I think Sue Bradford's all-out media blitz on the MANA Movement's decision was a bit of poor form for her.
Yes, I get that she thinks a terrible mistake has been made here (and she may well be right about that). And yes, it must be very hard to see the party you helped found make what you think is a very, very wrong choice. And yes, given that she already thinks she has "lost" one party - the Greens - to see another one go "bad" on her must be heartwrenching.
All that said, to hit the airwaves and print media with interviews saying that your former comrades (whom you purport to still respect and admire) have all been duped and just don't know what they are about is a bit on the nose. After all, the battle is now lost. Whatever arguments were made against the deal have been put forward and rejected in what sounds to be a fairly broad consultative exercise. The Movement is moving on its new way, and going public to tell it "you're all marching to oblivion!" does nothing except hasten that fate upon those she used to travel alongside. Because the news of the new Internet-MANA Party's launch has been dominated by this dissention, rather than any sort of positive coverage of a new political force on the block.
[I fully accept that there's a fair-to-middling chance that I'll be having to write a post in the near-to-medium future saying "Sue Bradford was absolutely right and everyone should have listened to her." I guess I'll just take my chances with that.]
So how will this new enterprise work, and what exactly does it stand for? The short answer to that is we only know the sketchiest outlines, as set out in the "Memorandum of Understanding" (pdf) between the two parties. But it really isn't that complicated. The Internet-MANA Party will be an umbrella organisation, registered as a party in its own right with the Electoral Commission. It'll field a list of candidates, drawn from the MANA Movement and Internet Party (MANA gets #1 slot, Internet Party #2, MANA #3 & 4, with the parties alternating thereafter), for which voters will be asked to cast their party vote. At some point, it will also get around to deciding on some policy, which all Internet-MANA MPs will have to support. Anything it doesn't have a policy on, MANA and Internet MPs can follow their own party line on.
Under this Internet-MANA umbrella, the MANA Movement and Internet Party will continue to exist in their own right, as "component parties" of the umbrella organisation. Each party will run their own constituency candidates under their own party name, so Hone Harawira will continue to run in Te Tai Tokerau as a MANA Movement candidate (as will Annette Sykes in Waiariki, which they must still have thoughts of winning). The umbrella party will then take advantage of the electorate lifeboat rule in s.191(4)(b)(ii) of the Electoral Act - if a candidate for a "component party" is elected in a constituency, then the "umbrella party" doesn't have to reach the 5% threshold to get party list seats.
Of course, that's the real point of the "merger" (although note that it isn't really a full marriage between the parties - more of a "roomates with benefits" arrangement). Without the very strong likelihood of Hone Harawira winning his seat again, the arrangement wouldn't make sense. Well, it might if the two parties thought that combining their support base could get them to 5% of the vote, but I suspect even the most optimistic of their leadership team doubt that this will happen. Does that then make the move a deeply cynical, unprincipled exercise in realpolitik?
Well, yes and no. They undoubtedly are "gaming" the MMP system, by taking advantage of a rule that really ought not to be in place at all. Just like National and ACT did in 2011 (and previously) in Epsom, albeit that the Internet-MANA linkage is at least completely explicit about its intentions and doesn't rely on a nudge-a-wink-and-a-cup-of-tea. And just like Labour did with Jim Anderton in Wigram back in 2005.
However, before we criticise this Internet-MANA rort too strongly, remember what allows it to carried out. After we all diligently told the Government back in 2011 that a majority of us wanted to keep MMP, the Electoral Commission then asked us how it could be improved. And a lot of us told the Commission that we'd really, really like this "electorate lifeboat" rule junked, precisely because it encourages just this sort of political behaviour. A point of view that the Commission accepted, and so recommended to the National Government that the law be changed to do away with it. Advice that the National Government then proceeded to ignore in its entirety.
So, don't like the Internet-MANA tie up and think that it is cynical politics of the worst kind? Well, blame Judith Collins for that.