The trouble with Kelvin Davis

Reports of Labour's Kelvin Davis 'going rogue' have been exaggerated

Leaked revelations of a dispute between Labour’s Te Tai Tokerau candidate Kelvin Davis and the party’s Head Office over a proposed negative campaign against Hone Harawira and Kim Dotcom have been used as evidence of Davis going rogue.  In truth, the documents show a candidate engaged in nothing more sinister than garden variety electioneering; of trying to win a tough political fight. The tone of the news coverage appears to align with the political objectives of whoever furnished the leaks to begin with: to shut Davis up, and and his campaign operation down. 

A more intriguing, as well as troubling, aspect of the leaked emails from Labour's General Secretary Tim Barnett suggests someone is telling porkies about the party's Maori seat strategy, not to mention understating its eagerness to figuratively wade in Kim Dotcom's pool.  

In sharp contrast to comments David Cunliffe made as recently as last Tuesday, Barnett prohibits the Labour campaign in Te Tai Tokerau from campaigning against the Internet Mana Party which he casts as a "progressive" ally.  Cunliffe, meanwhile, repeatedly told Radio Live's Duncan Garner that Labour was “absolutely not” doing a deal with the Internet Mana Party, and that “we are backing Kelvin Davis to win in the North.”  And yet we now know, just a few weeks earlier, Secretary Barnett was telling the Davis campaign team to refrain from “picking fights” with Harawira and Dotcom.  There shouldn't be any doubt about what Barnett is advocating here: since ‘picking fights’ with opponents is the very stuff of elections, Barnett is effectively instructing Davis to ‘run dead’ rather than actually campaign to win in Te Tai Tokerau.  

At best, this suggests Mr Barnett does not stand by his leader's oft-repeated mantra that Labour intends to contest all seven Maori seats, including Te Tai Tokerau.  At worst, it calls into question whether any such strategy ever existed.  

We are witnessing yet more attempts at three dimensional chess by people far better suited to checkers.  

This leaves Mr. Davis spectacularly in the lurch, especially in light of his early, consistent and principled stand against the cynical formation of the Internet Mana Party and its use of Hone Harawira as their Trojan candidate.  It has also enraged several of Davis’s supporters who had been placated by earlier assurances from Cunliffe that Te Tai Tokerau was not being offered as koha to Kim Dotcom.  

The revelation of Barnett’s double dealing came as little surprise to some, myself included, who suspected that the Internet Mana Party coattail was the beating strategic heart, the pièce de résistance, of Labour’s unlikely bid for power all along, and that key advisors to Cunliffe therefore saw Kelvin Davis’ winning the seat as a catastrophic outcome to be avoided at all costs. 

The effect of these leaks, if nothing else, will be to make it near impossible for Kelvin Davis to prosecute the kind of campaign necessary to topple a high-profile and well funded incumbent. It has greatly curtailed his ability to make a case to potential campaign donors which was powerfully compelling on two grounds: Davis is a strong, credentialed and capable candidate in his own right; and helping him win Te Tai Tokerau would bring the significant additional benefit of keeping Parliament free from Kim Dotcom's agenda which couldn't be further at odds from the health, wealth and wellbeing of Maori in the North. 

Putting Labour’s official position aside, the left’s commitment to Kelvin Davis has always been shaky. Commentator Chris Trotter recently assailed him as an "aggressive hard-man bereft of all strategic and tactical understanding”, “an assimilationist on Maori development” and an “authoritarian". And Labour, let's face it, has a serious, much broader problem with Maori men; the departure from its ranks for various reasons of John Tamihere, Shane Jones and Dover Samuels points to a fundamental, unresolved problem.  

Labour's current brains trust is far from nimble enough to carry off a complicated strategy built around doing one thing and saying another when it comes to Kelvin Davis and Kim Dotcom.  It is simply not possible to simultaneously support both men. It's time for David Cunliffe to state once and for all where he stands, and make it clear to the voters of Te Tai Tokerau that Kelvin Davis must win, not in spite of its deleterious effect on the Internet Mana Party but, in part, because of them. 

A recent poll showed the majority of Labour voters don't want a bar of Internet Mana.  It goes to show installing an entourage of Dotcom allies on the strength of Maori voters in the North represents a depth of cynicism to which they are unwilling to sink. Labour should never have put the option on the table, let alone allow it to linger there this long.